Seeking childcare cost cutting measures

Report reveals that Crook County residents could spend 30 percent of income on child care


Photo Credit: KEVIN SPERL - Four-year-old Serenity Hopper, left, and Cairo Wrolson, 5, play at Evergreen Academy on Southeast Fourth Street in Prineville.

According to the state’s latest audit on the cost of child care, residents in Crook County are likely to spend over 30 percent of their income on toddler care — an annual cost of $5,500.

Not only is this type of service expensive, it’s also hard to find. With a state goal of establishing a ratio of 25 care slots per 100 children, Crook County only offers 10. The 2013 report, titled “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care,” indicated that the county offers 255 seats in child care and educational service organizations, with another 193 slots offered in family-based child care settings.

The report, prepared by Child Care Aware of America, states that the cost of child care often exceeds that of housing, college tuition, food or transportation.

Tralina Fulton, owner of Tater Tots Day Care in Prineville, is one of 24 day care providers listed with NeighborImpact Child Care Services.

Fulton is licensed to care for 10 children, aged newborn through second grade, but admits to having, at most, six children in her care at any one time.

“I have not had 10 kids here since the economy went bad,” she said, adding that it is a constant struggle to provide quality, licensed care at a price that parents can afford.

Reacting to the state audit, Fulton almost found it amusing that Oregon is said to have some of the highest child care costs, saying that she has been charging $2.50 an hour per child for the past 15 years.

“I dare anyone to live on 2.50 an hour,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I know that day care is expensive, it is equivalent to a mortgage payment or a car payment. But, we are trying to make a living too.”

Fulton said that the combination of Prineville’s economy and rising care costs has resulted in parents turning to grandparents, family friends, just staying home, or sharing care with others.

As parents continue to make this choice of keeping their children at home, studies have shown that a student’s school readiness, when entering kindergarten or first grade, is potentially impacted.

The Crook County School District has often reported the problems faced by children that enter kindergarten without having access to quality pre-school child care.

Stacy Smith, director of curriculum and instruction for the Crook County School District, had noted earlier this year, when responding to state assessment results for kindergêrtners (The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment), that there is a strong link between students that attend a structured preschool environment and success in the early grades.

“If a student happens to be from a community where a greater percentage attend preschool environments, that student may be more advanced, when compared to children that are in family child care,” he said, adding that approximately 70 percent of Crook County preschool kids are cared for by friends and family.

Bobbi Weber, faculty research associate with the Family Policy Program at Oregon State University, agreed.

“High quality care, which involves little or no screen time, healthy food, a ton of physical exercise and many activities that support cognitive and social development, is what parents want for their children,” she said. “But, the cost of getting quality care and education is not possible for many Oregonians, including many in the middle class.”

Regardless of the benefits, cost remains the most significant impediment to children being enrolled in pre-school child care.

“A parent’s concern when they call us is how much we charge and if they can afford us,” agreed Fulton. “And, contrary to what people may think, we don’t charge more just because we are state-registered registered facility.”

Throughout the state, the audit claimed that cost of toddler-based care is approaching $10,000 annually, almost $4,000 more than the average annual cost of college tuition in the state, ranking the state as the seventh-most expensive in this type of care.

“This issue of affordability is huge,” said Weber. “Families are facing serious challenges, and they want to do the right thing for their children, but faced with these unbearable costs, they do what they can to make it work.”

Kristin Holman owns Evergreen Academy, a state certified pre school and child care center with locations in Redmond and Prineville.

Holman explained that the cost of food, utilities and supplies, along with paying at least minimum wage, justifies the cost of day care.

“Teachers that work in child care deserve more than they get,” she said. “I wish we could give them even more.”

“Our cost of infant or toddler care is around $700 to $800 a month,” said Holman.”Prineville costs are a lot less than what you might find in Bend, but that doesn’t help me because my payroll taxes, minimum wage and cost of food is the same.”

Although Fulton and Holman appreciate that care costs are high, neither was entirely sure what could be done to alleviate the financial pressure on families.

“I have had this conversation with my husband a lot,” said Fulton. “It gets to where you are watching one child and that does not pay the bills. Then it picks up and you think you will be OK. It is up and down, but it has hurt us financially over the years.”

Holman hopes that more community-based programs would emerge along with involvement of the school system in pre-school options.

“I have parents that would rather stay at home instead of work to pay day care,” she said. “I have families with three or four kids who are forced to stay home with the younger ones because they can’t afford it.”

To view the report, “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care,” go to usa.childcareaware.org/sites/default/files/cost_of_care_2013_103113_0.pdf

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