Steamboat Springs Quality child care is a valuable gift for Jennifer Shea and other working parents of children who frequent the Discovery Learning Center in Steamboat Springs on weekdays.
But it is a gift with a growing price tag in Routt County.
“The rising cost certainly does put a financial strain on our families, but it is a conscious decision we make,” said Shea, who works full time at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation while her 4-year-old daughter, Claire, attends the Learning Center. “We have seen costs steadily increase on everything from in-home day care to various child care facilities.”
According to the 2011 Self Sufficiency Standard for Colorado, a Routt County family of four — two parents with an infant and preschooler — needed $78,818 annually to pay bills and sustain itself. In 2008, a family of four needed $65,791. The Self Sufficiency Standard, which is calculated every three years by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, is watched closely by local child care providers and showed that the estimated monthly child care costs for the same Routt County family of four increased 35 percent from $1,703 in 2008 to $2,295 last year.
First Impressions of Routt County’s Early Childhood Council program supervisor Stephanie Martin said parents’ salaries have not increased enough to afford the difference on their own.
“I find it hard to believe families have seen that increase in their income,” she said. “While there has been an increase in the cost needed to make ends meet, employees have to do more work to make the same amount of money.”
She said the report shows more subsidies are needed to help Routt County’s 13 child care centers and preschools maintain their ability to provide toddlers a safe and engaging learning environment at a time when parents are finding it more difficult to receive financial assistance.
In 2010, the Routt County Board of Commissioners approved lower income eligibility requirements for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program from 225 percent of the federal poverty level to 130 percent because there wasn’t enough money in the program’s budget to support the need under the previous requirements.
Martin said that change cut the number of funding options available to moderate-income families who still struggle to afford child care in the Yampa Valley.
“The First Impressions Council continues to work to help families find ways to make ends meet and stay in our community,” Martin said. “We’re always looking for more grant funding to be able to increase the amount of assistance we offer.”
She said the rising costs parallel the rising overhead costs that day cares and preschools must meet to keep their doors open.
Strain on providers
When Tami Havener started as the director of Steamboat’s Family Development Center in 1984, she made $7 per hour, and she said Tuesday that the facility’s tuition rates reflected that. Day rates at the center have increased slightly from $55 in 2008 to $61 this year, and scholarship assistance has risen alongside those higher costs.
“Over half of our families are on scholarships through a variety of funders,” she said, adding that the center historically has had 30 percent of its families on scholarship assistance.
She said that while parents face higher gas, food and child care costs, the center also is paying more for employee health insurance, school supplies and fuel for field trips.
“Our board of directors has really worked hard to keep tuition as stable as possible while still allowing the business to keep its doors open,” Havener said. “The rising costs mean I have to spend more time balancing the needs of families versus the needs of staff versus the needs of the agency, which includes the mortgage and our bills.”
She said her board of directors will meet Wednesday to discuss the tuition rate for next school year.
Worth the cost
At work on Tuesday, Shea said she feels fortunate to have a high-quality child care facility she has trusted to educate two of her daughters. But she said rising child care costs continue to take up a considerable portion of her family’s budget.
“At one point this past summer, I condensed my work schedule to four, 10-hour workdays to have one less day of child care, but it didn’t work in the long run,” she said. “The biggest thing is we don’t buy new cars or go on big vacations, but all families eventually have to come to that realization when they live here. This is where we chose to raise our family and to maintain small class sizes. We never lose perspective of the gift of our children being in a great environment while we work, even if it comes from a greater portion of our budget.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com