Child care needs aren’t being met in Utah
Oct 24, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: Oct 27, 2023, 10:45 am
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — A report released on Monday shows Utah doesn’t have enough licensed child care.
The “Mapping Care for Kids” report has statewide and county-level data. It aims to give the public and policymakers an understanding of the demand for child care in the state.
The biggest takeaway it found was that licensed child care programs can only serve about 36% of all children under six who have working parents. Every county in Utah doesn’t have enough child care infrastructure.
That’s because most families can’t afford the increasing cost of quality child care.
According to the report, an average of 17% of a family’s income is spent on child care for two children under six. It’s recommended that only 7% of income is spent on child care.
Child care providers also can’t offer quality child care for a lower rate. The industry already has low wages, few benefits, and economic insecurity.
“As a provider, I struggle to raise our rates because I care about the families I serve. I know that most providers agree. We never want to add additional burdens to anyone. However, if we want to remain open to support families, we have to,” Katie Martinez, director of Kid’s First Center in Layton, said in the report.
While licensed child care costs about the same across the state, the need varies from county to county. The counties suffering the most are in rural areas. The report found that Daggett, Piute, Rich, and Wayne counties all have no licensed child care.
Recommendations to bridge the child care gap
“Mapping Care for Kids” also provides some reasons to be hopeful. It shows that public investment and effective state implementation have led Utah’s child care system to grow by 31% since 2020.
“Because the state stepped in, I was able to give my employees a very significant raise, do significant improvements to the center, and not raise tuitions for the past two and a half years or so,” Michael Wade, Owner of First Steps in Salt Lake City, said in a press release.
However, according to a press release, child care stabilization grants were reduced by 75% as of Oct. 1, 2023. They will end completely by the spring of 2024.
Considering these findings, the report outlines some recommendations.
The first is for Utah to commit to public investment in child care. That can include recognizing child care as early education, investing in it, not expecting too much of the business sector, and providing paid leave for families.
The second recommendation is to help parents afford the care they want. That includes strengthening the child care assistance program, which helps middle- and low-income parents cover child care costs. It also includes expanding eligibility criteria for child care assistance.
The third recommendation is to support the work of child care providers. That can look like continuing child care stabilization grants with state funding or bolstering wages for child care professionals.
The bottom line is child care is an infrastructure, just like highways and housing. The report said without good enough child care infrastructure, the economy experiences labor shortages and depressed economic output.
Public investment can help Utah fulfill its child care needs.
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