Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez hosts child care roundtable with first responders


U.S. District Three Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez listened to first responders’ concerns about their struggles accessing child care while maintaining their jobs during a roundtable with first responders in Vancouver, Thursday June 20.

Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania County, gathered multiple first responders with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Vancouver Fire Department (VFD) to talk about the struggles with childcare while working abnormal hours, along with the costs of an in-home nanny on top of the cost of housing. The roundtable was moderated by Vancouver City Councilor Sarah Fox, who is, herself, a veteran and mother.

Gluesenkamp Perez said the concept of supporting first responders needs to “evolve and reflect a fuller picture of modern parenthood.”

Kristine Buist, assistant chief with the Vancouver Police Department, said the lack of child care options for demanding schedules doesn’t solely affect women but has put a strain on the nationwide 30-by-30 initiative, which aims to have 30% of women hired in law enforcement by 2030. Currently women make up just 12% of sworn officers.

“It’s so important to have women out there representing the city or the county,” Buist said during the roundtable. “It’s really important for people to be able to see that. And women bring such an amazing element to law enforcement that we need to continue to do everything we can to enable them to come and join us and have this great career.”

Tanya Wollstein, a sergeant with VPD, mentioned officers have taken steps to address concerns about child care but is aware that at least one will likely leave the department due to the lack of affordable options for the demanding schedule.

“One of them will likely leave the profession at a time when it’s historically unprecedented that it’s difficult to find law enforcement officers,” Wollstein said.

Wollstein added as part of VPD’s efforts towards the 30-by-30 initiative, the police department sent a survey out to both the Vancouver police and fire departments asking how a department day care would be received and utilized.

She said 48%of respondents said in the survey that they would use it at the present moment with another 5% saying they would utilize it in the next five years. Additionally, if it were offered, 92.47% responded by saying it would be attractive for applicants and believe it would set them ahead of other departments in the recruiting process.

While the officers and firefighters in attendance related to one another when it came to raising a child while being a first responder, Gluesenkamp Perez joked about her parenting experience transferring well in her political endeavors.

“Having a toddler is actually a very transferable skillset to working in Congress,” Gluesenkamp said. “It makes me a better legislator.”

Gluesenkamp Perez said she wants to learn from the first responders’ experiences to help advance legislation that will help curb child care expenses and make it accessible for all.

“We lose incredibly valuable perspectives and assets if we don’t support families in our first responder community,” she said. “We can’t afford to leave talent on the table, and that’s going to require a different way of thinking about flexibility, funding, retention.”

Gluesenkamp Perez said the child care issue is personal for her as she is a mother of a young child who struggles with child care access in rural Skamania County.

Last June, Gluesenkamp Perez introduced the Expanding Childcare in Rural America Act to allow easier and more affordable access for childcare. She also co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to help families face rising costs of care. In April, Gluesenkamp Perez visited a home child care provider that offers non-standard hours for parents with demanding schedules, like first responders.