Even With the New Push for Universal Preschool, Families With Younger Kids Will Still Struggle

Left behind?
preschool for all


Kira, 35, never pictured herself as a stay-at-home mom. Before she had kids, she worked full-time as a social worker specializing in cases that included severe mental illness and drug issues. She points to finding care for the youngest children, from newborn to age 3, as an even greater crisis in care than affordable preschool.


“I didn’t even know this was a need until I became a parent, which is pretty shameful,” Kira says. “Then it becomes this howling cry for help; like, oh my god, this sucks.”  


She’s glad to hear lawmakers moving toward universal preschool to help more families. “I’m not hopeful that it will help me,” Kira says, “but I want it to get better for the next generation after me.”


Her husband, Trevor, is working on his Ph.D. while teaching full time at a Hawaiian charter school. Their 3-and-a-half-year-old son, Aukahi, has been at a Hawaiian immersion preschool since age 3 and before that at a UH-subsidized center when Trevor was still a full-time student. Their 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Honua, is staying home with Kira until she’s old enough for preschool. “It was just the best solution. We looked around at child care and a bunch of options fell through,” she says.  


Kira did find a well-recommended caregiver but she had an 18-month waitlist. But Kira was prepared to pay what was needed, especially after hearing from the caregiver: “I have parents who are willing to pay $1,300 because their last guy charged only $800 but the daughter was pulling her hair out because she was just in a playpen all day watching TV.”


Kira and Trevor and their keiki met up with us in a lush green area near Trevor’s school. As the children explored around them, both parents and their son switched between English and Hawaiian as they asked and answered questions. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Kira attended the University of Oregon, where she and Trevor met, before returning home to the Islands.


“A lot of us were raised by grandparents, which is awesome but we don’t have kūpuna to help raise our children because they have to work.”


“We’re both able-bodied, we have master’s degrees, we’re both from Hawai‘i, we have careers, we have two cars,” Kira says. “We have all these resources and it’s still a struggle.”


Kira points to the high cost of living. “A lot of us were raised by grandparents, which is awesome,” she says, “but we don’t have kūpuna to help raise our children because they have to work.”


Kira put her career on hold to care for her young children, knowing she’s fortunate to have family resources and access to Native Hawaiian programs and scholarships, but she worries about folks who are immigrants, living in poverty and facing other challenges. 


“I’m totally middle class and raised to be upwardly mobile,” she says. Looking ahead, she thinks it’s unlikely that they’ll ever buy a home in Honolulu. “We’ll probably move to the Big Island.”


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman


This story originally appeared as “Left Behind?” in the April 2020 issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Get your copy at shop.honolulumagazine.com and subscribe to the print and digital editions now.