DENVER — It’s one of the most difficult, most expensive decisions parents have to make: where to find childcare. And it’s tougher than ever before in Colorado because the state has a massive shortage of daycare providers and some of the highest costs in the country.
The moment Maggie Heatherman, a Stapleton mother, found out she was pregnant, one of her first thoughts was who would care for the most important thing in her life when she goes back to work.
“Research shows the first couple of years of life are so instrumental in development,” said Heatherman, who immediately started looking for a nanny. "When I first started looking, it's crazy how expensive it is. We’re talking $18 to $20 an hour, at a minimum."
Post sticker shock, she said, the real panic set in, after she realized she might not find someone in time.
"Until you experience it, you have no idea what it's like to try to find care," she said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s a fragmented marketplace, so there is no one-stop-shop to figure everything out, unfortunately.”
Booming Population Leads to Shortage
The childcare challenge in Colorado has become increasingly difficult, in part, because of the state’s booming population.
While the State offers a new childcare ratings and referral agency called Colorado Shines to help match parents with licensed providers, often those providers simply don’t have enough space, especially for infants and toddlers.
“There really are not enough slots at this time in licensed care," said Erin Mewhinney, the Division Director of Early Care and Learning for the Colorado Department of Human Services. “We certainly have more slots over the last ten years than we did ten years ago, but we have a vastly larger population, and it’s just not keeping up.”
At The Goddard School in Parker, the wait list for the infant room is one year long, and Dan King, the owner, tells parents to get on the wait list at conception.
“So, as soon as you know you’re pregnant, get on the wait list,” said Dan King, who said would-be parents frequently contact him before they have even conceived. “That’s happened numerous times, actually. You want to plan ahead.”
Colorado Ranks Among Most Expensive For Childcare
When parents can find a slot, the question remains can they afford it? Colorado consistently ranks among the most expensive states for licensed childcare. From 2007-2014, daycare rates for infants shot up 21 percent in Colorado, while incomes only went up 12 percent, according to a 2016 report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
On average, according to a 2016 Child Care Aware Report, the annual cost for child care centers is $14,950 a year for infants and $11,089 for a 4-year-old. In-Home daycare is less expensive, but still costs $9,620 for infants and $8,626 for a 4-year-old.
As a result of the high costs and low availability, Mewhinney said, more parents are turning to friends, neighbors and relatives to fill the gap, leading to other concerns.
"We are very concerned when we hear of parents, for instance, leaving children in the care of older siblings pulling siblings out of school to watch their younger siblings," said Mewhinney. “When parents or caregivers cannot find formal care, we do often see neglect cases pop up from them.”
“When parents or caregivers cannot find formal care, we do often see neglect cases pop up from them.”
Nanny Shares Will Soon Be Legal
So, what can parents faced with low supply and high prices do?
"Nanny shares. Absolutely a nanny share," said Maggie Broadrick, the owner of Kiddie Up Nannies, who has been helping Colorado families find childcare for the last seven years. “The biggest frustration for parents would be affordability. Nanny share is becoming super popular for that reason.”
Broadrick said families with similar needs will work together to split the cost, making a nanny about the same price as a child care center.
Technically, however, Nanny Shares were not legal under Colorado law, which did not allow an unlicensed provider to care for more than two unrelated children. In March, Governor Hickenlooper signed a new law increasing the number of unrelated children a caregiver can watch without a DHS license for four, but no more than two of them can be younger than 2 years old. The new law takes effect this summer.
The High-Tech Hunt For Childcare
Some parents have turned to childcare cooperatives, in which neighborhood moms trade free babysitting duties.
"Apps and online sources are really great resources, but it's important for families to know they're going to have a lot of legwork to do," said Broadrick, “And they need to do their due diligence to check people out.”
Maggie Heatherman found that out the hard way, doing ten hours of research a week trying to find a nanny.
"There's just so many places to look - there's different websites, different nanny organizations, different Facebook groups," said Heatherman, whose son, Jack, is now three months old. “I didn’t think I was going to find something in time.”
She did find a Nanny Share at the last minute, but that nanny just turned in her two-week’s notice, and Heatherman has to start the process from scratch.
“Especially with how emotional and overwhelmed you are just with having a new baby the challenge of finding childcare is so difficult," said Heatherman.
Colorado Shines Offers these tips for finding quality childcare.
How does your county compare in child care costs? Check out the best and worst counties below for preschool-age children.
Top counties for married couples with preschool-aged children:
1.) San Juan County
2.) Ouray County
3.) Teller County
4.) Lincoln County
5.) Conejos County
6.) Clear Creek
7.) Rio Grande
9.) Dolores County
10.) Bent County
Best counties for single mothers with preschool-aged children:
1.) Ouray County
2.) Lincoln County
3.) Crowley County
4.) Teller County
5.) Bent County
6.) Yuma County
7.) Clear Creek County
8.) Conejos County
9.) Douglas County
10.) Baca County