Lahaina, which had approximately 1,700 children ages 5 and under before the wildfires, lost 255 licensed child care seats in August. At least six Lahaina centers serving young children remain closed nearly three months after the deadly blaze, according to a tracking map from Child Care Aware of America and PATCH Hawaii, a child care resource and referral agency.

The two Lahaina preschools that are open — The Preschool at Kapalua and Maui Preparatory Academy’s preschool program — are operating at full capacity, leaving many families without options as they return to work and try to rebuild after the fires.

“We can’t get back to work, we can’t rebuild our homes or anything if we have little toddlers around who need so much attention,” Cochran said.

Meanwhile, many providers who lost their centers in the fire face uncertainty about when and how they can start offering child care again.

The loss of facilities has exacerbated a longstanding child care shortage.

Liz Turcik, director of admissions and a history teacher at Maui Preparatory Academy, said she has received calls from pregnant mothers asking to reserve waitlist spots for their unborn children.

Since August, she added, she’s received more desperate calls from parents asking if they can enroll their toddlers in the academy’s preschool.

“The fire has not changed that deep need for preschool programs,” Turcik said.

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who has made increasing preschool capacity in the state a signature issue, said the state has identified West Maui as a community with high child care needs.

She said that, even before the fires, Lahaina had no state-run preschool classrooms that were free of charge for families, although there was a federally funded Head Start program.

Now, with heightened demand for child care in Lahaina, the state is considering how quickly it could open public preschool facilities on Princess Nahienaena Elementary’s campus, Luke said, referring to one of the recently reopened Lahaina schools.

As some families leave Lahaina or remain out of work, child care remains essential for helping students heal and socialize after the fires, said Kaina Bonacorsi, the early childhood resource coordinator for Maui County.

Child care centers also provided families with a safe place to leave their children in the days after the worst U.S. wildfire in modern history as parents visited resource hubs and sought aid from state agencies, Bonacorsi added.

Recognizing this need, Kama’aina Kids, a nonprofit providing educational programs across the state, offered free child care in Kahului until mid-September. Dana Vela, the program’s president and CEO, said her organization was able to find permanent placements for several families in child care centers elsewhere on Maui.

Read the full article about childcare options for Lahaina families by Megan Tagami at The 74.