There are almost 300,000 children under the age of six in Utah, and more than half of them have a need for early childcare while their parents work, but there are not enough facilities to meet the need.
In Summit County, about 1,800 children are in need of childcare. The county, though, only has the licensing capacity for just over 900.
Moe Hickey is the CEO of the nonprofit, advocacy group Voices for Utah Children. He said there isn’t enough childcare available throughout the state.
“So if you look at what's taking place, both at the state level and in Summit County or Park City,” Hickey said. “Basically, we wind up having the same problem, we're running at about a 50% shortage in the state in terms of active childcare slots.”
Right now, he said, early childhood doesn’t have a clear definition in Utah.
“So right now, early childcare basically falls into the zero to five age, but it's disjointed,” he said. “So zero to three falls under childcare at the Department of Workforce Services. Four and five is kind of a no man's land, because it's not part of the K-12 system, and it's not part of the Office of Early Childcare. So one of the things we're advocating for, is some kind of a comprehensive program for minimum zero to five.”
He advocates public officials and private businesses working together to address the problem.
“Some of this could be a public private partnership, in which we really do have to bring in the employers into the conversation; they are the ones that need the workforce coming to work,” according to Hickey.
The needs of each county are different, so Hickey said the solutions need to be as well.
“So we can't just say one size fits all,” he said. “We just have to come up with a practical platform that addresses the needs of say Park City, which may be different than Eastside or it may be different than a place like Carbon County in terms of how we address the situation.”
Childcare is expensive. For infants it can cost anywhere from $9,000- 12,000 a year. And for such a high annual price tag, there’s a disparity in the average pay for childcare and preschool workers in Utah, whose pay generally ranges between $10-11 per hour.
Hickey said a lot of the costs of childcare go toward things like licensing and inspection fees. He thinks these costs can be cut.
“If there's a childcare facility, we could waive registration fees, we could waive licensing fees, as long as they meet the requirements,” he said. “So using good solid technology, make sure the forms are filled out to make sure that people are in compliance, that would alleviate some of the burden. But some of the costs are really safety factors. So you can only have a certain number of children per childcare provider in a group setting.”
Hickey said Utah should start running pilot programs based on other successful state’s plans to help meet the growing demands for childcare.
KPCW News reports on issues affecting children aged zero to 3-years-old is brought to you by the early childhood fund at the Park City Community Foundation. For more information go to earlychildhoodalliance.net.