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Local child care experts speak out on Summit County childcare crisis

PARK CITY, Utah — Kristen Schulz, the Park City Community Foundation Early Childhood Alliance coordinator, gave a child care update to the Park City Council at its most recent meeting on November 17.

“The point that we really wanted to get across is these beginning years, these first 1000 days are really an incredible time in someone’s life,” Schulz said. “We know that we are setting the foundation for future growth, brain architecture, just a lot of the wellness that a person experiences in their life is heavily dependent on these first years. And unfortunately here in the Wasatch back, high quality, early care and education is hard to find, and very expensive.”

According to the 2021 Summit County Early Childhood Needs Assessment, 79% of mothers with children under 6 were in the workforce, and the average cost of center-based child care was $1,408. Due to Summit County’s unique economic position, this cost is tenable for some residents, but unfeasible for others.

Although the area is known as a winter destination for the wealthy, some locals still struggle to make ends meet. According to the assessment, 13% of Summit County children experience food insecurity, and 22% of children in all six Summit County elementary schools receive free and reduced-price lunch.

“As a destination and resort community, Summit County faces large stratification of wealth and opportunity,” said the 2021 Summit County Early Childhood Needs Assessment. “Service and support workers struggle to afford everyday necessities, leaving little room in the family budget for child care or other high-quality early learning experiences and developmentally appropriate activities.”

“There is a cost to not investing in these kids when they’re young, and not supporting parental choice and a lot of high quality early childhood experiences for their kids,” Schulz said.

However, even if parents can afford the cost of childcare in Summit County, there is no guarantee they will be able to find a place for their child in center-based childcare.

According to a March, 2020 report from the Department of Workforce Services, Office of Childcare, there were 1800 kids in Summit County and 1900 kids in Wasatch County under age 6 in need of childcare, but Summit County childcare facilities only had the capacity for 924 children, and Wasatch County facilities only had the capacity for 315.

But lack of childcare isn’t just a local or even statewide issue. According to a February report from Child Care Aware of America, almost 16,000 child care programs across 37 U.S. states have permanently closed since the pandemic began, accounting for 9% decline in the total number of licensed child care providers.

“As a community, we’re really inviting people to think about a public investment in early childhood,” Schulz said. “Similar to the way that we as a community, invest in public education once kids are older.”

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