Our View: The economics of child care

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The announcement that Holy Name Preschool is closing its doors has underscored the need to address the community's child-care challenges.

Holy Name is the second child-care center in the past year to announce it is closing, joining Kinderhaus. Most of the county's remaining eight centers are nonprofit organizations that rely on grants and donations to break even.

Access to affordable, quality child care is critical not only to parents of young children but also to the community. Without reasonable access to child care, many parents who could enhance the community's work force are forced to stay at home.

The problem that centers face is delivering child care at a price residents can afford. Daily rates have risen steadily each of the past four years and range from $35 per day to $48 per day. That's $9,100 to $12,480 per year. Imagine parents with two preschool-aged children. The bill facing that family ranges from $18,200 to $25,000, hardly worth the effort of working in a community where the average job paid $26,536 in 2000.

Child-care advocates say the industry faces a "trilemma" in terms of affordability, accessibility and quality. Affordable child care often lacks the quality advocates say centers should provide. Increasing the level of quality reduces affordability. Neither is accessible because demand outstrips supply for the former, and cost does limit who can access the latter.

This did not happen overnight. It is a problem that has been building for years.

In 2001, child-care advocates attempted to address the issue through a city and county tax that would have subsidized licensed child-care facilities. We opposed that tax at the time and would not advocate another tax at this time.

Instead, we would first advocate the following:

n Encourage more licensed, in-home providers who can offer child care at reduced rates. There are fewer than 25 such providers in Routt County. First Impressions of Routt County has grant funding to assist in-home providers with training, licensing, equipment and other needs. More needs to be done to create awareness of the need for in-home providers and the funds available to assist them.

n Re-examine the role school districts can play. Hayden is exploring full-day kindergarten. Steamboat Springs should do the same. While full-day kindergarten would come at some cost to the community, that cost would be minimal compared to the benefits it could provide.

n Engage businesses to take a greater role in addressing the problem. This is a work-force issue that benefits businesses by offering a stronger pool of workers. Businesses can help in a number of ways, including partnering with child-care centers and shifting civic contributions to local facilities.

n Individuals can make contributions to programs such as the Yampa Valley Community Foundation's Good Beginnings Fund or to individual child-care centers through the United Way. Thanks in part to State Sen. Jack Taylor, 25 percent of such contributions are deductible on residents' state income tax.

With the closing of Holy Name this summer, the availability of child care will decrease and the costs will go up. That's an all too familiar trend that needs to be reversed before child care in the Yampa Valley reaches a crisis point.

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