Glenwood Springs parents, teachers say need for additional child care options is dire
High cost of living, nontraditional schedules make limited child care options more challenging
When Glenwood Springs resident Breanna McCallum learned she was pregnant about two years ago, she immediately started researching nearby child care options.
As her due date drew near, the intensity of her search grew, but to no avail. McCallum’s maternity leave came and went, but no long-term care option for her infant presented itself. Instead, she relies on a network of family and friends for child care, crossing her fingers in hopes that once her daughter is 1 year old, more local options will open up.
For 33-year-old Glenwood Springs firefighter Tobie Powell, the challenge is threefold. Powell’s three children range in ages from 3 months to 4 years. Working 48 hours on the clock, with 96 hours between shifts, only complicates matters further, she said.
Her mother lives nearby and can watch the kids on a regular basis. On occasion, however, Powell still has to hire a nanny — at a rate nearly equal to her own pay — to fill in the gaps.
At Our School, one of the area’s few preschool and nursery facilities, preschool teacher Leigh Rankin is all too familiar with the uphill battle Powell and McCallum face.
Our School’s waiting list is roughly 300 families long. Because of high demand, families can be on the waiting list for two years or more before a child enters the program.
“We have families as far up the valley as Carbondale and down to Rifle,” Rankin said. “Infant and toddler care are our longest lists, because we’re the only licensed center in the area for infants and toddlers.”
A friend in need
Despite living and working in Glenwood Springs, McCallum commutes to New Castle every morning and evening for child care — a round trip of about 50 minutes twice each day, she said.
While commuting is inconvenient, McCallum counts herself lucky.
“Child care is so limited here, my husband actually considered quitting his job to stay home with our daughter and watch some of our friends’ kids,” she said. “Fortunately, when we were looking for a day care, I discovered an old high school friend who was running an in-home day care in New Castle.”
On the best of days, the commute is a necessary timesink, but Interstate 70 can be unpredictable. When mudslides caused the interstate to close in late July, McCallum spent nearly three hours stuck at the Canyon Creek on-ramp on her way to work.
“We looked into getting a nanny, but they can cost up to $20 to $30 an hour, and finding the right person with the right qualifications can take nearly as long as getting into a day care,” she said.
McCallum also looked into a nanny-sharing service, in which a single nanny looks after multiple children, and the families share the costs. With a shared nanny, however, the child might be at a different location every day as each family takes turns hosting, and McCallum said she was concerned about the lack of control or information she would have about who her daughter was interacting with or where.
Part of the McCallums’ struggle is their daughter is less than 1 year old, and most programs in the area don’t take infants.
“I knew child care was going to be expensive in the valley,” McCallum said, recalling her early pregnancy research. “But I never realized how limited the options for infants would be.”
Following her friends’ suggestions, McCallum signed up for the Our School waiting list shortly after learning she was pregnant.
At the end of August, the McCallums’ daughter was 11 months old, and they held the No. 6 slot on Our School’s waiting list.
Between a rock and a hard place
Powell’s schedule changes every week, and her husband works 10-hour days, which means he leaves for work before day care facilities open and returns home after they’ve closed.
“I don’t know what we’d do without my mom,” she said. “Day care isn’t viable for us, because we’d have to pay for five days a week, when we only need a couple — that really only leaves a nanny service.”
Even if a local facility offered day-to-day care, Powell works in 48-hour blocks, making her all but unavailable for two days at a time. The children would need another care option between when her husband leaves for work and when the day care opens as well as after the day care closes until her husband returns home.
“There’s really no option for us outside of a nanny,” she said. “A private nanny is not ideal. When you’re paying someone pretty much what you’re making, it’s not great.”
If Powell were to stay home with the children, the family might be able to squeak by on a single income, but with the high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley, their budget would take a significant hit.
“When I say I think we could manage,” she said, “I mean it would be possible but extremely difficult.”
Staying home would also mean rebooting her career.
“Our oldest is 4 now, and it will be at least five years before our youngest starts school,” Powell said. “So that’s, what? A nine-year gap in my resume? I would have to start back at the bottom.”
Although an increase in day care facilities across the valley could benefit hundreds of families, Powell said a center with 24-hour-availability might be the only solution for her family.
“There’s not a lot of child care options for dual-income households, and I don’t know many that could survive in the valley on one income,” she said. “But with my weird schedule, I don’t think the situation will change for us anytime soon.”
Running a child care facility can be a challenging business endeavor anywhere, Rankin said, but doing so in the valley ramps up the difficulty.
“Being a preschool teacher can be tough for some, so you really have to make it worth people’s while,” she said. “Income is a big challenge in the valley, because in this community, a preschool teacher can’t afford a home on their own.”
Rankin, who’s taught preschool at Our School for about 10 years, said the pay is good, but it still falls short when balanced against the area’s high cost of living.
“I’d like to retire someday, but even at a well-paying program like Our School, I don’t see that as an option,” she said.
The valley’s housing costs are one of Our School’s biggest recruitment barriers, Rankin said.
“It’s not hard to find qualified staff, but there is a lot of competition for qualified staff,” she said. “When teachers see how much it costs to move here versus what they can make elsewhere and pay only about half in rent, it can be hard to get them to choose Glenwood Springs.”
While three of Our School’s six teachers have been with the program for a decade or more, the program typically hires a new teacher every year or two to fill in gaps left by teachers who change careers or leave the area, Rankin said.
Before a day care or preschool can consider recruiting staff, it needs a location, and space in Glenwood is at a premium. Our School moved three times before settling in its current location, 3126 Grand Ave.
“Within Glenwood, you won’t find a structure that you could create a center in easily,” Rankin said. “There was a recent proposal for a center based out of a home in Hyland Park, but the neighbors basically said ‘no.’”
Affordable housing could help attract day care staff, but the cost of running a day care center in the area is prohibitive to growth in the child care sector, she said.
“I don’t think there’s any one solution to solving the lack of child care options in Glenwood,” Rankin said. “But, if there was a way to create more centers, maybe a financial break or incentive of some sort — making it financially possible would be a good start.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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