Jenny Bishop, an engineer who works for Colorado Springs Utilities, started looking for child care before her daughter Clara was born.
“I went to the state licensing site and pulled eight or 10 possibilities,” Bishop said. “I only found one who had an opening for an infant.”
When her provider moved last year, Bishop and her husband had to go through the whole process again and found one person with an opening for a 2-year-old.
“She had three or four other people interested in that position as well,” Bishop said. “It was very stressful and certainly made it difficult to focus at work. Each time, we found just one person who had openings. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise.”
Sara Lewis, a communications specialist in the marketing department at McDivitt Law Firm, has a 4-year-old daughter, Cora, and a 15-month-old son, Freddy.
Lewis’ husband Luke, now a part-time student at UCCS, stayed at home with Cora during her first year. Cora now attends a Montessori preschool, but the family has had a lot of trouble finding care for Freddy.
“We have been on a wait list for a commercial day care center since July,” Lewis said. “They said he should be in within six months or so. I called them in January. The director was very nice, but they haven’t had kids moving out, and she had no idea when we would move up on the list.”
Lewis now hopes there will be an opening by August. Another center asked for a $500 deposit to put Freddy on its wait list.
“A lot of people put their kids on wait lists from the time they’re born,” Lewis said. “I didn’t want to do that.”
An in-home nanny takes care of Freddy when Luke is in class, but Lewis has to miss work if the nanny is sick. When Cora’s school is closed for teacher workdays or holidays, Sara and Luke have to take turns staying home.
Both Bishop and Lewis said their employers are supportive of working moms but do not provide resources for child care.
“Being a working mom has a lot of costs that I don’t think companies are aware of,” Lewis said. “There is a big financial cost, but there are a lot of other burdens. I had to pack a diaper bag for my daughter every morning when she went to daycare, and there’s also the time and gas for going to the care facility before even getting to work.”
High cost of day care
“Child care is not cheap,” Bishop said. “Our first provider charged around $45 a day. Where we are now charges $165 a week. We are able to take advantage of pretax deductions from my paycheck, but the maximum deduction is $5,000 a year, which doesn’t cover it all.”
Lewis said preschool for her daughter costs $5,200 per year, which covers only the school year.
“For our son, we’re lucky; we’re just paying for part-time care, about 11 hours a week at $12 an hour.” Still, child care costs the family almost $700 a month.
According to Care.com, day care rates in Colorado Springs range from $130 to $182 a week.
Realm of Caring Child Development Center, which accepts children 3 to 18, falls at the higher end of the fee spectrum. The center, which opened March 15 and has a capacity of 15 students, provides individualized education and coordinated care including therapy services.
Director Jasmin Davis said the process of opening a child care center is lengthy and expensive.
“I started applying to the state last June,” Davis said. “You have to start by getting to know the regulations.”
The state Department of Human Services’ requirements for day care centers are contained in a 452-page book, and Davis had to go through three separate inspections to prove she was compliant.
“You have to be well capitalized from the beginning,” Davis said, “and you have to have a really good business plan.”
Davis knows it’s difficult for parents to find child care, especially for infants and toddlers.
“You have to have more employees for younger kids, which drives costs higher,” she said. “There are long wait lists for newborns to kindergarten age, a dire need in the state of Colorado.”
Onsite care at USAA
USAA, which provides financial services to military members and their families, is one of the rare Colorado Springs companies with onsite day care.
USAA’s offices across the country have Child Development Centers that care for employees’ children, but the Colorado Springs center is the only one that is co-located in a USAA building, said James Hannon, executive director for human resources.
“It’s very convenient,” Hannon said. “Employees can get their kids any time of the day, come to see them during their breaks, or have lunch with them.”
The center is operated under a contract with Bright Horizons, which provides classes set up by age group. It is open from 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and has programs for infants through preschool.
“We make it safe and secure by having reserved spaces in the parking garage that are closest to the Child Development Center,” Hannon said. Employees and their spouses, if requested, are issued badges that open the door to the center.
The Child Development Center is just one of the benefits USAA grants to its employees.
USAA decided to establish child care “to provide the type of services our employees deserve,” Hannon said. “You know you can drop off your child right here, get age-specific education and pick them up when you want. That’s peace of mind; you don’t have to worry about it.”
Assistance for parents
Finding child care is difficult enough for working moms and families who can afford it. For parents who can’t pay for day care because they aren’t making enough or are looking for work, the difficulty is compounded.
The El Paso County Department of Human Services offers child care assistance for parents who can’t afford to put their children in day care centers. Because of funding constraints, the program has a wait list of 392 cases and 621 children.
Eligibility for the program is determined by income. For parents who are accepted, benefits are paid directly to child care providers.
“The program helps families become more stable and self-sufficient so the parents can do a good job at work,” said Kristina Iodice, public information officer for the department. “We know there’s a need, but the funding we receive for the program is not adequate to meet the need.”
As of March, 1,719 families with 2,898 children participated in the program.
“We’re helping all those children,” said Julie Krow, executive director of the El Paso County Department of Human Services. “It’s a big contribution in terms of supporting families so they can get back to work. But we really want to be able to provide child care assistance for all eligible families in El Paso County.”
After July 1, that might be possible. Krow said a bill just passed in the state legislature will boost funding for the program by $1.2 million, and the county could get another $1.5 to $2 million under a proposed federal funding increase.
Finding child care will remain a challenge, however.
“We need additional families who are willing to be licensed, high-quality providers of child care in El Paso County,” Krow said.