Chris Schulz Published

Child Care Access A Barrier To Improving Child Well-Being In W.Va.

A child with pigtails and a pink backpack is seen walking down a road.Heleen Zeegers/Getty Images

West Virginia ranked 42nd in the nation for child well-being in this year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The data book is a 50-state report of analyzing how children and families are faring. The analysis is based on metrics, such as education, health, family and community.

Tricia Kingery, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, said the biggest factor in the state’s ranking is its economic outlook.

“The underlying factor as to why we’re 36th in economic well-being, 47th in education, 39th in health, and 34th in family and community is the economic landscape of our state,” Kingery said. “We have to invest in working families. And that does mean jobs. It does mean benefits, it does mean child care.”

Each year, the foundation chooses a specific hurdle to improving child well-being, and this year’s focus is the state of child care.

Tiffany Gale, owner and director of Miss Tiffany’s Early Childhood Education House in Weirton, as well as the family child care chair for the West Virginia Association for Young Children, said a lack of accessible and affordable child care is holding back West Virginia.

“It is such a huge issue not only for child care in general, but also for business and economic development and for workforce participation,” Gale said. “Families cannot get to work without access to child care, and businesses cannot thrive without workers and workers need child care.” 

Gale said there isn’t enough child care in the state of West Virginia to support the businesses that already exist, nor to support the businesses that are coming. Gale and Kingery both said many people who want to work cannot because they do not have reliable child care.

Beyond the immediate impact to the workforce, Gale said there is also a long-term impact from the lack of access to child care.

“Early childhood education is extremely important, because 80 percent of brain growth happens before kindergarten,” she said. “We can change the trajectory of a child’s life, and really the trajectory of communities in the first five years of care.”

West Virginia Kids Count plans to publish a more detailed, county by county report of child well-being in the fall.