Market Insights Vol. 5: Shortening Long Waitlists: It's All About Offer Times

We look at shortening waitlists, important subsidy eligibility changes coming soon to Washington state, our latest partnership announcement, and more!

Faster seat offers and enrollment times would greatly reduce long waitlists and increase access to care.

We hear regularly about how long waitlists are for a child to enroll in a child care program—so long in fact that many families join them before they’re even pregnant. It’s commonplace for families to sit on waitlists for 18 months or more, and never even get a seat. This leads to families cobbling together care, finding lower quality care to meet their family’s needs, paying more than they can afford for care, or all the above. However, what we’ve seen is that the faster families can accept seat offers, the greater reduction in waitlist lengths overall. Let’s dive into how that’s been possible!

Across our Enrollment Success Platform, we’re seeing that 53% of offers are made within 30 minutes of a seat posting.

Staffing shortages and staff-to-child ratios have historically made waitlists long, but a less explored but significant contributor is the painstaking amount of time it takes for providers to go through the multi-step process of offering a seat to a family on their waiting list: Combing through their long waitlist in search of families that fit the open seat’s criteria, then narrowing it down to a family whose needs fit, and then waiting for the selected family to accept the seat offer. This process can take weeks because many families aren't used to hearing replies from providers, so often when they still get a seat offer, it's ignored or it’s no longer needed. The end result is lost time and revenue for providers waiting for a response that isn't actually coming, only to start the entire process over again after weeks of waiting.

While this process of back-and-forth with families occurs, providers are losing out on potential revenue, which is directly tied to their financial stability.

What is missing in our current discussion about waitlist lengths is that waitlists aren't just long because of demand, but because they're not kept up-to-date and providers spend valuable time playing phone tag, waiting for parents’ responses—and losing money that they so desperately need in the meantime.

Although waitlists are long, they don’t need to be such a significant barrier to care. We can solve this issue by expediting the waitlist management process: If waitlists are filled only with interested families who are still looking for care, they can actively participate in their waitlist status and communicate efficiently with providers to fill seats.

In January of this year, Sen. Claire Wilson and Rep. Tana Senn introduced companion legislation to address the child care crisis costing Washington families, businesses, and the economy. In May, Governor Inslee signed the Fair Start for Kids Act into law, making child care more affordable and accessible for families across Washington state. The bill takes a multifaceted approach to several areas of need within the industry—from affordability for parents to facilities improvements, and provider pay and supports—to ensure holistic and sustainable change.

Importantly, effective October 1, the Fair Start for Kids Act will help make child care more affordable for families by significantly reducing the copays for low-income families and expanding eligibility for subsidies through Working Connections so more middle class families can see cost relief.

Read more about the work that Rep. Senn has been doing as a champion for early childhood education here.

We are excited to share our latest partnership with the Early Learning Shared Services Alliance (ELSSA)! ELSSA recently launched in Central Florida and is a comprehensive Shared Service Alliance on mission to provide child care centers and home-based providers with centralized back-office support, so that providers can grow their businesses, achieve financial stability and focus on quality programming and education. Read more about ELSSA’s great work here.

I started LegUp when I was pregnant with my second child and had just finished the long and arduous search for child care. By the time my daughter was a year old, we were on over a dozen waitlists and had been told by every single program that the likelihood of her getting off of a waitlist in the next year was almost non-existent.

This was a search I was familiar with, having done it years before with my first child. Yet despite the years that had passed since my first, the experience from the family’s perspective hadn’t improved. And having worked in enrollment for programs, I knew the provider’s experience hadn’t either. I knew there had to be a better way for child care providers to connect with families searching for care and move them through the enrollment process more smoothly. So LegUp was created out of my desire, and our team’s hard work, to make the experience for both providers and families easier because we know how busy both parents and providers are.

The providers we speak with every day breathe a sigh of relief when they hear about how much time LegUp’s Enrollment Success Platform can save them. So many of them got into child care because they love children and the families they work with deeply, so they want to be responsive to family inquiries. But they can’t always achieve that goal when they’re doing the 20 other jobs they have or are helping in classrooms because of staffing shortages.

One of our centers told us recently that they are committed to ensuring families have a great experience every step of the way, regardless of whether or not they were ever able to secure a seat there. However, prior to using LegUp, they often struggled to achieve their goal of responding back to a family within 24 hours due to staffing shortages. Now that they use LegUp’s Enrollment Success Platform, managing parent inquiries is no longer a daily struggle. Families still have the great experience the provider is aiming for, without worrying about how being understaffed might negatively impact those relationships. Their staff knows exactly what is communicated to families and when, and where each family is in the enrollment process at all times.

This issue is so personal because my daughter, who inspired LegUp, is now two and still hasn’t gotten off of any of those waitlists. In that time, we’ve had to figure out temporary solutions. And as a mom and CEO of a company trying to solve this issue, it can feel demoralizing. LegUp aims to normalize families hearing back from providers and give providers back the time and resources they spend on administrative tasks. Reach out if you’d like to partner with us in achieving that goal.