TWIN FALLS — Codi Garner used to have five children in day care — and a huge bill to pay.
“It was crazy,” she said. “I was spending more on day care than I was actually bringing home.”
It wasn’t working out, so Garner decided to become a stay-at-home mother until her children were old enough for school.
Now, she’s back in the workforce. She relies on part-time childcare — costing $180 per month —for her 3-year-old son while she works as a cosmetologist in Burley.
For parents, it can be a major challenge to figure out how to pay for high-quality childcare or decide to stay home with children instead.
A new national report from Child Aware of America — “Checking In: A Snapshot of the Child Care Landscape – 2017 Report” — concludes Idaho lacks high-quality, affordable child care. And only 4 percent of programs are nationally accredited.
What’s the average yearly cost for parents? $6,390-$9,980 for infant care, $6,180-$8,970 for toddler care and $5,835-$8,060 for 4-year-old care.
That can be higher than the average cost of public college tuition: $6,818 per year in 2016.
“We have a lot of work to do to support our working families,” Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said in a statement earlier this month. “The simple fact is, if parents can’t afford or find quality child care, both our economy and the development of our young children suffer.”
A child care center’s perspective
The biggest message people need to understand: birth through 8 years old is the most critical time for children in their development, said Gena Anderson, owner of Right On Track Child Care in Twin Falls.
“We need to invest in good childhood experiences so we’re not missing out on the opportunity for them to develop,” she said.
Anderson started working in early childhood education about 25 years ago. About 14 years ago, she started her business.
Now, Right On Track Child Care accommodates about 80 children per day from birth through 5 years old, including preschool.
The center has six classrooms, all of which use a curriculum and lesson plans. Each child receives ongoing developmental assessments.
The cost for families depends on a child’s age, and whether it’s part or full-time care.
On the high end for full-time care, it costs from $110 per week for 4-and 5-year-olds to $140 per week for infants.
That comes out to $2.75 to $3.50 per hour, for a 40-hour work week.
“The majority of our parents have pretty decent jobs, so they are able to cover those costs,” Anderson said.
But the center does serve low-income families, she said, and several use the Idaho Child Care Program to get state assistance with child care expenses.
It’s offered through the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for low-income families who are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants who are working, going to school or participating in approved training. It covers a portion of child care expenses.
To qualify, a family of two must have a monthly income not exceeding $1,736. The limit is $2,184 for a family of three and $2,633 for a family of four, and goes up incrementally from there.
At Right On Track Child Care, a few families are receiving financial help with childcare from a different source — their child’s grandparents.
“The families we serve recognize that we’re offering a high-quality program,” Anderson said, “so they’re willing to figure out how to pay for those costs.”
Making decisions about childcare
Tuesday was Kimberlee LaPray’s first day back at work after maternity leave. She’s a public information specialist at the College of Southern Idaho.
Her 10-week-old daughter and 6-year-old daughter are spending daytime hours with one of LaPray’s friends, a stay-at-home mother.
LaPray pays her friend an average of $350 per month. Plus, she brings groceries over to her friend’s house for breakfasts and lunches for the children.
Once the school year starts up, her older daughter — who’s going into first-grade — will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley after school.
She started going to the club last year in kindergarten, which cut down on a lot of expenses, LaPray said.
LaPray said she knows many mothers who stay home because they can’t afford to have two or more children in day care.
Twin Falls resident Kourtney Shaw is a stay-at-home mother to her 1-year-old daughter and 3-year-old stepson.
She said she wants to go back into the workforce to help pay bills, but can’t afford child care — especially, since the family is trying to find a place to live. They’re living with her parents and helping them with bills.
Shaw said her daughter’s biological father is out of the picture and doesn’t provide financial support.
Children are parents’ pride and joy, and parents want to seek the best childcare, she said.
But Twin Falls isn’t the wealthiest city and Idaho isn’t the wealthiest state, she added, and it’s hard to afford child care on top of paying the rent and other living expenses.