When Glenwood Springs resident Breanna McCallum found out she was pregnant about two years ago, she immediately began looking for childcare options nearby.
As her due date approached, the intensity of her search increased, but to no avail. McCallum’s maternity leave came and went, but no long-term care options for her baby presented themselves. Instead, she relies on a network of family and friends for childcare, crossing her fingers in the hope that once her daughter turns one more local options will open up. .
For Tobie Powell, 33, a Glenwood Springs firefighter, the challenge is threefold. Powell’s three children range from 3 months to 4 years old. Working 48 hours on the clock, with 96 hours between shifts, only complicates matters further, she said.
Her mother lives nearby and can babysit regularly. On occasion, however, Powell still has to hire a nanny – at a rate almost equal to her own pay – to fill in the gaps.
At Our School, one of the few preschool and kindergarten facilities in the area, preschool teacher Leigh Rankin knows all too well the uphill battle Powell and McCallum face.
Our school’s waiting list is around 300 families. Due to high demand, families may be on the waiting list for two years or more before a child enters the program.
“We have families as far down the valley as Carbondale and up to Rifle,” Rankin said. “Infant and toddler care is our longest list as we are the only licensed center in the region for infants and toddlers. “
A friend in need
Although she lives and works in Glenwood Springs, McCallum travels to New Castle every morning and evening for babysitting – a round trip of about 50 minutes twice a day, she said.
Although travel is inconvenient, McCallum considers herself lucky.
“Childcare is so limited here that my husband considered quitting his job to stay home with our daughter and look after our friends’ children,” she said. “Fortunately, when we were looking for a day care center, I found an old friend from high school who ran a home day care center in New Castle. “
Best of all, the commute is time consuming, but Interstate 70 can be unpredictable. When mudslides caused the highway to close in late July, McCallum spent nearly three hours stranded on the Canyon Creek slip road on his way to work.
“We looked to find a nanny, but it can cost up to $ 20-30 an hour, and finding the right person with the right qualifications can take almost as long as entering a daycare,” he said. she declared.
McCallum also looked at a nanny sharing service, in which a single nanny looks after multiple children and families share the costs. With a shared nanny, however, the child may be in a different location each day as each family takes turns hosting her, and McCallum said she worries about the lack of control or information that she has. she would have about who her daughter was interacting with or where.
Part of the McCallums’ struggle is that their daughter is under a year old and most programs in the area do not accept infants.
“I knew child care was going to be expensive in the Valley,” said McCallum, recalling her research on early pregnancy. “But I never realized how limited the options for infants would be.”
Following suggestions from her friends, McCallum put herself on Our School’s waiting list shortly after learning that she was pregnant.
At the end of August, the McCallums’ daughter was 11 months old and they were in sixth place on Our School’s waiting list.
Between the devil and the deep sea
Powell’s schedule changes weekly, and her husband works 10 hours a day, which means he leaves for work before the daycares open and comes home after they close.
“I don’t know what we would do without my mom,” she said. “Daycare is not viable for us because we had to pay for five days a week when we only need a couple – that really only leaves a nanny service. “
Even though a local facility offered day-to-day care, Powell works in 48-hour blocks, making her virtually unavailable for two days at a time. The children would need an alternative care option between her husband leaving for work and the opening of the daycare as well as after the daycare closes until her husband returns home.
“There really is no option for us other than a nanny,” she said. “A private nanny is not ideal. When you pay someone roughly what you earn, it’s not great.
If Powell stayed home with the kids, the family might be able to get by on just one income, but with the high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley, their budget would take a hit.
“When I say I think we could manage,” she said, “I mean it would be possible, but extremely difficult.”
Staying at home would also mean restarting his career.
“Our oldest is 4 years old now, and it will be at least five years before our youngest starts school,” said Powell. ” So what is it ? A nine-year gap in my CV? I should start from the bottom again.
While an increase in child care in the valley could benefit hundreds of families, Powell said a 24-hour center could be the only solution for his family.
“There aren’t a lot of childcare options for dual income households, and I don’t know many who could survive in the valley on just one income,” she said. “But with my weird schedule, I don’t think things are going to change for us any time soon.”
Running a daycare center can be a tough business venture anywhere, Rankin said, but doing it in the Valley increases the difficulty.
“Being a preschool teacher can be tough for some, so you really have to make it worth it,” she said. “Income is a big challenge in the valley because in this community a preschool teacher cannot afford a house on his own. “
Rankin, who taught preschool at Our School for about 10 years, said the pay was good, but still insufficient for the area’s high cost of living.
“I would love to retire someday, but even in a high paying program like Our School, I don’t see that as an option,” she said.
One of the biggest barriers to recruiting our school is the valley’s housing costs, Rankin said.
“It is not difficult to find qualified personnel, but there is a lot of competition for qualified personnel,” she said. “When teachers see how much it costs to move here versus what they can earn elsewhere and only pay about half the rent, it can be difficult to get them to choose Glenwood Springs. “
While three of the six teachers at our school have been in the program for a decade or more, the program typically hires a new teacher every year or two to fill in the gaps left by teachers changing careers or leaving the area, Rankin said.
Before a daycare or preschool can consider recruiting staff, they need a location and space in Glenwood is limited. Our school moved three times before moving to its current location, 3126 Grand Avenue.
“Within Glenwood, you won’t find a structure where you could easily create a center,” Rankin said. “There was a recent proposal for a center based in a house in Hyland Park, but the neighbors basically said ‘no’.”
Affordable housing could help attract child care staff, but the cost of running a child care center in the area is prohibitive for the growth of the child care industry, she said.
“I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all 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 some kind of incentive – making it financially possible would be a good start.”
Journalist Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at [email protected]