ANITA WALKER: It’s time to help working parents better afford quality child care

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As director of an early childhood education center, I see that working families with young children in our community are under pressure to make ends meet. In Aurora and across the state, the increasing cost of living is making it more and more difficult for families to manage their expenses, and one of the main financial struggles for these parents is affording the quality child care they need to stay at work. 

Child care for a 4-year-old in Colorado costs $11,229 annually – or $936 each month, according to Child Care Aware. Costs for infant care are even higher, with families across the state paying an annual average of average of $15,138 per child in a center. That makes Colorado the seventh most expensive state for infant care in the country.

At the same time, child care costs are rising, more than 64 percent of children under the age of six across the state have caregivers who work outside the home. This puts families in impossible situations in which parents must choose between their jobs and child care for their children. In fact, nearly one in nine Coloradans with young children said in a 2016 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that they or a family member were forced to quit a job, not take a job or change their job because of child care difficulties.

Our state needs programs that help parents keep their jobs while ensuring kids grow and develop to their fullest potential.

Fortunately, leaders at the Colorado State Legislature introduced a bill this year that would assist more low-income families, as well as middle-income families across the state, in affording quality child care. The bipartisan House Bill 18-1208 would expand the state’s current Child Care Expenses Income Tax Credit to include more working and middle-income families. 

As more parents work, child care becomes the most important environment for children’s early education at a critical time of development. Experiences during the first five years of a child’s life shape brain architecture and have a direct impact on that child’s social, emotional and learning skills, making early education the foundation of a child’s future.

Research shows kids who have access to a high-quality program often go on to earn higher incomes, are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school and are 50 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime. In my professional life, I see the incredible positive impact that high-quality early learning experiences can have not just on a child, but on their family as well.

Quality early childhood programs are also a smart investment for our states’ economic future.  A December 2016 report from Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman shows the rate of return on investments in early childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child, per year due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability and economic productivity.

I applaud the House Appropriations Committee for passing the Child Care Expenses Income Tax Credit expansion with strong bipartisan support and urge the rest of the Colorado Legislature to pass HB18-1208 to support Colorado’s hard working families.

Anita Walker is an Early Childhood Education Coordinator at the Jamaica Child Development Center in Aurora and a volunteer with Save the Children Action Network.