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Maui’s early childhood workforce shortage is growing and it’s hurting our keiki

Viewpoint

Maui’s early chidlhood workforce shortage is at a critical point and it’s only getting worse. Just recently, Maui Economic Opportunity announced the closure of three of its Head Start classrooms due to staffing and teacher shortages, leaving

60 more families without access to child care and early education. As students return to school, we need to take a closer look at the reality of this crisis and how it’s affecting our keiki today and the inevitable impacts it will have on our future workforce and economy.

Statewide, Hawai’i can only serve about 25 percent of keiki ranging from birth to five years old in child care and preschool, and nearly 3,000 childcare spaces have been lost since the start of the pandemic. Impacts can be seen in our K-12 system as well. The Hawai’i State Teachers Association reported that the number of teachers leaving Hawai’i has increased by more than 70 percent since 2012. Needless to say, Hawai’i’s early childhood and education workforce shortage crisis is dire.

Low pay relative to the cost of living in Hawai’i, the lack of workforce development opportunities and burnout are a few of the many contributing factors to this issue. According to a 2020 report by The Early Childhood Workforce Index, early educator wages are not livable wages in most states across the U.S. The median wage for preschool teachers fell below the state median wage for all occupations across all states. For a single adult with one child, median child care worker wages do not meet a living wage in any state, yet many early educators are themselves also parents, with children at home.

These are alarming statistics, but it doesn’t end there. The workforce shortage issue is not only affecting child care and preschools, it is affecting all areas that support early childhood development, including early intervention programs like speech therapy, physical therapy and behavioral health. Hawai’i early intervention services currently have a 25-30 percent employee vacancy rate. It is estimated that there are only two therapists who can provide dyadic behavioral health intervention for keiki from birth to five years old in Maui County.

Finally, according to a report by the Hawai’i Physician Workforce Assessment Project, Maui County is currently experiencing a physician shortage of 40 percent. This is a serious cause for alarm, especially in a post-pandemic era where there seems to be an uptick in young keiki exhibiting developmental delays and behavioral challenges.

As our keiki return to school, more and more families will face difficulties in accessing these much-needed services due to workforce shortages. Our keiki are the ones suffering the consequences and the long-term effects are yet to be seen. A qualified workforce in all aspects of early childhood development and education is essential to ensure that young keiki are set up for future success.

We are a part of Commit to Keiki, a nonpartisan, statewide initiative that is focused on engaging with the next governor to educate and encourage him to commit to our three priorities, including child care and early learning, family violence prevention and early childhood mental health. We need our next governor to prioritize policies and investments that support early childhood development and align our state budget with our state values. As the old adage goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Join us in asking our next governor to do more to equip our village with the infrastructure, resources and workforce to ensure that all of our keiki can thrive.

* Dr. Bobbie-Jo Moniz-Tadeo is the director/early childhood specialist for Imua Family Services. Erin Henderson Lacerdo is the executive director of the Association for Infant Mental Health in Hawaii.

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