Childcare Access in Gilliam County is at Crisis Levels: Community ROCKit Offers Path to Addressing

Elizabeth Farrar Campbell is the County Judge of Gilliam County, Oregon. She is also the mother to a 19-month old child, who has been on the waiting list for a childcare slot for more than a year. Her mother and her mother-in-law swap weekly childcare duties so that Farrar Campbell can maintain employment, with her mother-in-law driving four hours each way from her home in Washington State.


“I know firsthand how difficult the juggling act is to cobble together care for a young child,” said Farrar Campbell. “And I recognize I’m operating from a place of privilege. Many families don’t have the job flexibility or support system that I do.


I want to help solve the childcare crisis in Gilliam County for all those individuals for whom the lack of childcare jeopardizes their abilities to provide for their families, damages their mental health, or otherwise negatively impacts them.”

Childcare in Gilliam County has been difficult to obtain for years, but has become even more of a pressing issue recently as demographics in the community have begun to shift, due in part to a COVID baby boom and in part to young families relocating or returning to the area under new flexible or telecommute work options. In addition, nearly 1 in 7 childcare centers in Oregon are facing staffing shortages, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.


Gilliam County is considered a 'childcare desert' for the Infant/Toddler age group, with regulated childcare slots only available for 21% of children between 0-2 years of age. Preschool numbers are slightly better, with regulated childcare slots available for 36% of children.


According to the Center for American Progress, a child care desert is defined as a ZIP code with at least 30 children under the age of 5 and either no child care centers or so few centers that there are more than three times as many children under age 5 as there are spaces in centers. At one of Gilliam County’s three regulated providers, it is not uncommon for families to place their infant on the waitlist and only obtain a slot when that child turns 3 and is eligible for preschool.


Nearly 80% of children under 6 in Gilliam County have both parents – or their single parent – employed and average childcare costs for a toddler in Gilliam County are more than 26% of a minimum wage salary. The US Department of Health and Human Services defines childcare as affordable if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income.


Enter Community ROCKit. Community ROCKit is a 90-day roadmap for asset mapping and community engagement designed to help identify potential partnerships, resources, community capacity, and action steps that can be applied to pressing issues like the shortage of childcare. Gilliam County is the fifth Oregon location to participate in Community ROCKit, and the first to use the process to address childcare availability and affordability issues.


“A contact of mine from Umatilla County had participated in the Community ROCKit process, which they used to identify mental health solutions, and recommended Gilliam County as a good fit for the program,” said Farrar Campbell.


“I knew childcare was a major issue for our community, and we were also at a time of transition – our school districts recently hired new superintendents and the leadership of many of the childcare centers was also changing hands. The timing felt almost meant to be,” she said.

Gilliam County is one of the smallest Oregon counties by population, with nearly 2,000 individuals residing within its borders. Their mission for Community ROCKit: Generate vibrant solutions to expand and stabilize childcare access in Gilliam County, focusing first on children from birth to five years old.


“When you are a small community with limited resources, it’s most productive to look at – and our residents are used to coming up with - creative solutions using the assets we have,” said Farrar Campbell.

“If people see that, through this process, a lot can be done with what we already have available, then that will open them up to additional possibilities. It’s early on, but we are already hearing a lot of energy and excitement from participants. I’m hopeful that will carry throughout the process and enable us to expand our focus from children aged 0-5 to school-aged and after school care as well.”


What would success look like?

• Availability of additional childcare slots that provide exceptional childcare and early learning opportunities

• Existing childcare providers have the resources they need to be sustainable in the long-term

• Participants will identify actionable solutions and commit to following through with those actions

• Expand the scope to address not just the 0-5 age range, but the holistic childcare structure in Gilliam County


For more information about Community ROCKit, visit https://www.communityrockit.org/


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