Hawaii Early Learning Needs Assessment

The report provides a state-wide assessment of the early learning system for children birth through age five and focuses on childcare and preschool centers, family childcare homes, and family-child interaction learning programs.  The study was conducted in partnership with the University of Hawaii Center on the Family with funding from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation. 

The report serves as a critical tool to evaluate and improve how Hawaii supports the development of all of its children. Findings reveal areas of crucial need and bright spots.

Areas in need of action include increasing the number of childcare and preschool seats. Overall, there are only enough seats to serve about one in four children, but many communities are childcare deserts with few or no options for families. The report shows there is a critical shortage of infant-toddler care. Hawaii has 37 children under age three for every licensed infant-toddler center seat, and some islands have no infant-toddler centers. As a result of the shortage, parents try to get on a waiting list long before their baby is born. 

Cost is a second key concern. Hawaii has the nation’s least affordable center-based care, relative to family income. The federal government defines affordable childcare as 7% of family income for all children, combined.  However, care for only one child in Hawaii consumes approximately 13% of the typical Hawai‘i family’s income. 

A third area of need is support for the early childhood providers themselves, many of whom do not earn a living wage. Some providers need access to on-site professional development and a pathway to earning a credential or college degree in the early childhood field. Finally, the cost of running a childcare program is prohibitive. Centers and family childcare providers struggle to keep tuition as low as possible while remaining viable as a business. 

Hawaii’s early learning has many bright spots as well. 

Hawaii has many childcare centers with national accreditation, which is an indicator of quality. Public prekindergarten is growing and we have unique options such as Hawaiian language immersion, family-child interaction groups where parents and children play and learn together, and programs for children who are homeless.

According to the study, a strong, high quality early childhood system is a necessary investment in Hawaii’s future.  High quality early learning programs help children develop to their full potential. Reliable, affordable childcare allows parents to remain in the workforce, increasing family self-sufficiency and ensuring stability for employers.

Summary Report

Full Report

Technical Supplement


The State of Childcare in Hawaii