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Could the childcare crisis get worse before it gets better?

The average cost of center-based childcare in Colorado is $16,333.
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During the pandemic, the challenges of childcare became widely known. Although several initiatives have been put in place to help the industry, the challenges continue. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the KIDS COUNT Data Book on Wednesday. The annual report dives into many aspects of child well-being. However, for the first time, the report also looks at how the childcare crisis impacts parents’ job security.

“In Colorado, 14% of children birth to age 5 lived in families in which someone quit, changed or refused a job because of problems with childcare,” the report states. 

Many factors have led parents to make a difficult decision; take care of their children or work. 

The average annual cost of center-based childcare in Colorado for a toddler is around $16,333. This amounts to 14% of the median income for a married couple ($84,954 in 2021) and 41% of the median income for a single mother ($54,448 in 2023), according to the report.

Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit advocacy organization that helps the Annie E. Casey Foundation gather data on Colorado for the report each year. It also advocates for data-driven policies to “improve child well-being in health, education, early childhood, and family economic prosperity,” according to its website

As Colorado Children’s Campaign identified several areas of the childcare crisis that, if improved, could make a positive impact on the industry.

Caregivers within the industry are paid poorly. In Colorado, caregivers in childcare settings are paid worse than 98% of other professions, a news release from Colorado Children’s Campaign stated. Low wages have led to chronic workforce shortages and high turnover rates. 

The industry relies heavily on women, especially women of color, to fill these positions, said Melissa Mares, director of early childhood initiatives at Colorado Children’s Campaign.

“Investing in their pay and benefits is huge as well as other strategies to improve access and that include for families to choose the type of care they prefer,” Mares said.  

The solution?

“Broadly speaking, we need more money in the system; a sustainable amount of money for a sustainable amount of time,” Mares said. “Really nothing happens without childcare. Everyone relies on someone who relies on childcare.”

Over 200,000 childcare providers received over $52 billion in federal funding over recent years to stay afloat. However, at the end of September, $37.5 billion of the stimulus money provided for childcare will dry up.

Mares suggests looking at existing programs such as CCAP, or Colorado Child Care Assistance Program for families, and fully funding them so all children who need a subsidy get one, not just a fraction of eligible families. This program is designed to help families who are homeless, working, searching for work or who are in school find low-income childcare assistance.  

The recent introduction of Universal Preschool in Colorado has opened up some room for families to send their children school, relieving some of the burdens of childcare. However, the state received over 30,000 responses to the enrollment, far more than it was expecting Mares said.

For Mares, the demand for Universal Preschool only shows how desperate families for childcare. While 4-year-olds and some 3-year-olds qualify for the program, Mares said the crisis doesn’t end there. There is also a high demand for infant and toddler openings. These positions are even more costly because taking care of younger children costs more, she said. 

As states roll out Universal Preschools, care facilities receive subsidies for the new program. The fear that accompanies these new programs is that facilities will stop accepting infants and toddlers because they can receive more funding under the new program. Mares suggests the best way to battle that is to offer subsidies for infant and toddler programs as well as preschool programs. 

“That’s when families most need safe, reliable, accessible childcare is when they are still getting used to having a newborn or a toddler,” Mares said.


Macie May

About the Author: Macie May

Macie May has built her career in community journalism serving local Colorado communities since 2017.
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