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Looking for the perfect child care? Join the waiting list.

April 13, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — When one mother and longtime Boise resident found out she was pregnant, she started looking for reliable child care options. She struggled to find one until after her child was born.

When another mother moved to Boise with her 18-month-old son, she too had trouble finding a spot. She paid for a month she didn’t even use just to reserve his place.

When Boise day care provider Sybil Martinez gets calls from parents looking for someone who can care for their children, she more often than not has to turn them down. It’s happened so often that sometimes, she doesn’t even have suggestions for other day care options to reach out to, she told the Idaho Statesman .

They aren’t alone. Parents across Boise and in surrounding areas are finding that having a child requires more than just the traditional supplies of tiny clothes and diapers. Increasingly, being a parent in the Treasure Valley requires leaving no stone unturned in their search for child care.

The luckiest of parents will find a place where their children will be able to have a safe, stable environment to grow and thrive. Everyone else, knowingly or not, is signing up for what many compare to a full-time job just to find someone to watch their children.

That can mean relying on family or an expensive combination of babysitters. Sometimes, parents turn to potentially dangerous “underground” day care businesses run by unlicensed providers who don’t follow state and city regulations.

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A HARD FINANCIAL CHOICE FOR PARENTS

Alisa Memisevic Crews, the mother who struggled to find child care during a pregnancy, now has three children, ages 18, 4 and 3. In her experience, finding child care she likes in Boise means being on a waiting list for a long time. Her family has been on as many as six for more than a year.

“It’s stressful on the kids and the parents,” Memisevic Crews said. “You spend $1,000 or more to have someone take care of your kids. You get to this place where eventually you start thinking, you know, what’s the point?”

While she says she wouldn’t leave her job at Micron Technology to stay home with her children, half of the reason she has her job is to help pay for day care.

The choice for both parents to work can be a hard one to make. Some couples find that ultimately, one parent staying home is more beneficial than battling the day care system. In households with both a mother and a father, it is often the woman who stays home. A Pew Research Center study last year found that 27 percent of mothers stay at home, compared with 7 percent of fathers.

Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, says it can be damaging to families, businesses and the economy at large when qualified workers have to stay home with their children. Many families need to have both parents working to stay afloat, and industries require talented employees.

Idaho AEYC reports that 56 percent of Idaho’s children under 6 have all their parents in the workforce, which even in a slow economy would create a need for lots of quality child care. Boise is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and that creates an even tighter squeeze.

Boise had 262 licensed day care operations as of March 27, according to records from the Boise City Clerk’s office.

Each of those day care operations has specific staffing limits it must meet, depending on the number and ages of children served. That’s why day care operators can easily end up having no open spots for new children.

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PROVIDERS ARE PAID LITTLE, BUT PARENTS CAN’T PAY MORE

Idaho AEYC estimates that in Ada County, there are 19,670 children with all parents working, but a child care capacity of only 16,908. That leaves more than 2,700 children needing care. Almost every county in the state has some sort of shortage, but Ada County is second only to Canyon County in number of children needing care. In Canyon, the gap is 3,885 children without care.

In a typical industry, that high demand can drive prices up. Some day care providers have raised prices, but others have chosen not to for the sake of the families they work with. In an already less-than-lucrative industry, that can be problematic for providers.

Martinez, who runs Aunt Sybil’s Daycare at Cassia Street and Curtis Road on the Boise Bench, said she and her family spend more than 70 hours a week to run her business from their home.

“I’m not out to make it rich,” Martinez said. “This is my dream job, even if it can be really hard to do.”

There is a shortage of day care workers, Oppenheimer said, which makes it difficult to find qualified staff. Idaho AEYC estimates that day care workers earn about $9.77 per hour without benefits.

The city of Boise is working to streamline the process to obtain a license and reduce costs for child care providers. Beginning April 1, the city lowered costs imposed on licensed child care providers by cutting down on how often providers have to file paperwork with the city and eliminating annual juvenile background checks, requiring them only once.

The city will require child protection registry checks to be filed every three years instead of annually. CPR and first aid training will no longer be required annually for a worker whose certification is valid and current.

Many care workers leave the industry to work jobs that pay more, sometimes specifically to afford care for their own children.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Oppenheimer said. “Child care providers can’t make any less money, while parents really cannot pay any more.”

That squeeze means families may choose to have only one child or remain child-free. With rising housing costs and even a few thousand dollars in student-loan debt, some young people are finding that having children is an expense they can’t handle.

The Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, a nonprofit public policy organization, estimates that in Idaho, center-based care for a 4-year-old costs $6,300 per year on average, approximately 12.1 percent of a typical household’s income. For an infant, the cost rises to $7,296, nearly 15 percent of household income.

For single parents or those who work atypical hours, finding care is even harder. In Boise, child care providers who offer hours beyond a typical workday are next to nonexistent, parents and providers say. Recently, a large day care business that cared for children beyond typical working hours closed, pushing parents to jockey for the limited spots elsewhere.

“If you suddenly lose care, you’re going to have a really tough time,” said Jennifer Weaver, the mother who moved to Boise with her 18-month-old son. An associate professor of psychology at Boise State University, Weaver is a mother of four.

When she pulled her then-11-month-old daughter out of one day care center after a change in director left her unhappy, it took six weeks for Weaver and her husband to find a replacement. Her three oldest children now attend Rose Hill Montessori, which she estimates costs more than $2,000 a month.

“I don’t think people realize how much they rely on their child care until they don’t have it anymore,” Weaver said.

Day care is simply unattainable for some. Parents of young children sometimes call upon their parents, siblings or neighbors to help. Parents without close family networks may seek out cheap, so-called underground options.

Oppenheimer says unlicensed operators often pose much greater risk to the health and safety of children.

An unlicensed day care operation made headlines in 2016 when an infant suffered a life-threatening injury while in its care. The child survived, and the business was shut down.

“Parents shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and having safe conditions for their children,” Oppenheimer said.

Jamie Heinzerling, Boise’s deputy city clerk, said investigations into complaints filed with the city have found four unlicensed day care businesses since June. Two have come into compliance with licensing requirements, and the other two are still under investigation. Heinzerling said the goal of city investigations is to seek compliance with licensing regulations.

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ADVOCATES URGE EXPANDED SUBSIDIES

Advocates like Oppenheimer call for an expansion of the subsidies lower-income parents across the country can get to help offset the cost of care.

In Idaho, some help comes in the form of the Idaho Child Care Program, which provides financial assistance by paying most of a child’s care costs directly to the provider.

Most parents who use the program must pay a co-pay, depending on income and ranging from $40 to $150 per child per month for full-time care, to the provider to cover a portion of the child care costs. A family of four would need to make $32,640 or less annually before taxes to be eligible.

The federal government and Idaho offer tax credits to help families, too. Federal tax law allows parents to claim a tax credit for child care expenses. This is in addition to a child tax credit of up to $2,000 that a parent can claim for any dependent child. Idaho offers a $205 credit for each dependent child.

Tax credits are subtracted from the amount of tax you owe.

Another potential solution favored by Oppenheimer and other advocates is universal preschool or day care. For many children, day care centers are where they prepare for kindergarten.

President Donald Trump proposed helping families with the cost of child care through tax cuts. He made it a part of his platform when he was running for president, going so far as to include it in his “Contract with the American Voter.” He proposed three tax benefits, including a deduction based on child care expenses, a refundable credit for some lower income families and an expansion of tax-free child care savings accounts.

An analysis from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, however, found that the proposal would benefit wealthier families more than poorer ones. That is in part because deductions are typically worth more to tax filers taxed at higher rates. The credit to lower-income filers was found to be “worth much less per dollar of child care expense,” according to the report. The 2017 analysis estimated the whole plan would cost about $115 billion over 10 years.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has proposed a plan that would effectively use subsidies from the federal government to “create a network of child care options” including locally licensed centers and in-home child care. Warren is the only Democratic candidate so far to release a detailed plan on child care.

A report from Moody’s estimates the plan would give care to more than 12 million children at a cost of $700 billion over 10 years. Her plan would be funded by a 2 percent tax on households with a net worth above $50 million and a 3 percent tax on households with a net worth of more than $1 billion.

Opponents of universal care cite its large price tag and argue that those who have children should be responsible for their care. Oppenheimer contends that is shortsighted, as she considers child care to ultimately be a community issue.

“Children currently in care will support current taxpayers in the future by contributing to Social Security,” Oppenheimer said. “They’ll hold the economy up, and they’ll have a better chance of doing that if they have a good start.”

Martinez, the operator of Aunt Sybil’s Daycare, hopes help comes soon.

“As a provider and a mom, I’m seeing people stretched to the limit,” she said. “If no one does something, it’s just going to get worse.”

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com