Her child care business was a labor of love ― until she couldn’t make a living with it

“Where else can you find a job that gives you unconditional love,” quipped Kodani, 69.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 4:05 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2023 at 4:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For more than a decade, Dorren Kodani owned and operated Hilo Keiki Cares.

“Where else can you find a job that gives you unconditional love,” quipped Kodani, 69.

“They would tell me Aunty I love you,” she said. “Gosh, that touched my heart.”

But Kodani isn’t doing what she loves anymore ― because she couldn’t afford to keep her preschool open.

The case offers new perspective on the significant child care shortage in Hawaii at a time when the Green Administration has pledged an ambitious push to bolster preschool options for working families.

For Kodani, the economics simply didn’t work.

Before shuttering her business, which was state-licensed, she was making less than $3 an hour per child.

“I was allowed six children,” she said.

And with childcare in such high demand she says it was always a full house.

“Oh, they loved it,” said Kodani. “They wouldn’t go home.”

But all that came to an end a little more than a year ago when Kodani says she made the heart-wrenching decision to close. “COVID came. They had more rules put on you, especially in sanitizing the place,” she said.

And suddenly, what was already a demanding day kept getting longer until she was working 13-hour shifts.

“I even worked on the weekends to wash clothes, to wash the toys,” she said.

Kodani adds that hiring help was out of the question.

Each family paid $675 per month to enroll their child in the program.

“I couldn’t make enough for myself,” she said.

Terry Lock, an early childhood education instructor and researcher at the University of Hawaii, said Kodani’s case speaks to broader concerns about wages for child care professionals.

Lock oversaw a recent study completed by the University of Hawaii’s Early Childhood Educator Excellence and Equity Project that revealed the average caregiver makes between $13 and $17 an hour.

That’s about half of the state’s living wage, or what it takes to afford a modest lifestyle in the islands.

At the same time, she says, providers are trying to make the cost of childcare affordable for families.

“The fees itself cannot really afford the quality care in the long run that all of our children deserve,” Lock said.

Low wages have driven many to leave the industry.

According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, between 2018 and 2020 Hawaii lost 850 providers. That’s 20% its childcare workforce.

“We really have to take a look at the economics of what those providers are faced with,” said Lock.

Right now, there are several bills before lawmakers aimed at doing just that, including companion measures in the state House and Senate to create a child care worker subsidy pilot program.

Lock said the effort is aimed at “really looking at improving wages for those caregivers who are working with infants and toddlers, because those are the highest demand.”

It’s an idea Kodani would like policymakers to consider.

“Because you’re supporting the state, the state should support part of you,” she said.

Both versions of that bill have passed through early committees, but have a long way to go.