Charlottesville’s childcare crunch

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Childcare costs are higher than ever and rising nationwide. Families of all backgrounds and income levels are grappling with the conundrum of how to balance care and costs, from couples with college degrees forced to choose between careers and stay-at-home parenthood to low-income families who want more options than public care.

Child Care Aware, a national organization that helps families and providers determine childcare quality, recently released Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2012 Report which examines financing challenges and potential solutions. According to the report, the annual cost of infant care ranges from $4,600 in Mississippi to $15,000 in Massachusetts. Childcare costs more than in-state college tuition in 35 states and the District of Columbia, the report says, and the expense of care for two kids is higher than annual average rent in many places.

Unspooling the why of rising costs of childcare is complicated, as a recent article in U.S. News and World Report pointed out. An expert interviewed for that story explained that the rising cost of higher education is pushing service costs upward. At the same time, parents are reevaluating the trade-off of working just to dish out the better part of a salary to pay for preschool.

The struggles of families here in Virginia and Charlottesville to afford childcare mirror those of parents nationwide. In the Commonwealth, where the median family income is $61,616, daily infant care costs as much as $10,670 a year. According to Gail Esterman, who works for Children, Youth & Family Services, Inc. here in Charlottesville, 80 percent of kids with working moms are in childcare centers for up to 40 hours a week, and she described it as a fragmented system.

I’m working on a four-part series on the topic, and I want to open up the discussion and hear from you. Parents, why did you make the decisions you made for your kids? How satisfied have you been with the options in town? Providers, how do you accommodate families without jeopardizing quality? What pressures do you face when hiring caregivers?