ABC Fox News Missoula – September 21, 2016
Parents looking for a loving place for their child to spend time during work hours face a daunting task. Finding and affording quality childcare in Montana is becoming harder and harder, especially for parents looking for infant care.
Kelly Rosenleaf, executive director of Childcare Resources, says it all comes down to childcare being a low-paying job. The average income is around $20,000, causing caregivers to look for work elsewhere.
“Low paying jobs have a hard time sustaining the work force, and that is what’s happening in childcare. That work doesn’t pay very well so childcare teachers and assistants can get another job that is going to pay maybe slightly better, maybe have paid time off,” says Rosenleaf.
Rosenleaf says it’s unfortunate care-giving is such a low-paying profession, especially when a child’s brain grows fastest during the first three to five years of life. Quality of child care has a lasting impact on children’s well being and ability to learn.
However, there has been a decline in the number of childcare facilities in Montana. Stricter regulations make it harder to get into the business and harder to afford paying workers. Rosenleaf referred to it as “a crisis in the workforce driving closures of facilities,” particularly a problem for infant care where facilities can only have four infants for one person.
Not only is it harder to find childcare, but it’s becoming increasingly more and more expensive. In Montana, childcare is now more expensive than in-state tuition at a 4-year college.
According to the Montana Budget and Policy Center, for many families, childcare is the largest expense they face. For some, it can alone compromise half their annual income.
The Budget and Policy Center estimated the average cost to enroll a 4 year old in full-time care is nearly $8,000 a year. The cost for infant care is even higher coming in around $9,000 a year.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, childcare is affordable if it’s no more than 10% of a families income, which would mean only 28% of Montanan families can afford infant care.
Some low-income families can receive assistance through the Best Beginnings Childcare Scholarship program, which pays childcare providers to care for their children. Families that qualify must have an income less than $30,000 for a family of three. But that program served just 14% of the total population of children in need.