Finding child care is an in demand and expensive endeavor in Wisconsin.
"About 75% of children are in some type of out-of-home care situation, so that's a pretty significant number," Kelly Borchardt told Newsline 9.
Borchardt works with the Child Care Resource and Referral Center of Central Wisconsin in Wisconsin Rapids. That's a non-profit organization working to solve child care issues.
"I almost think of child care are falling right behind your basic needs. It's as expensive. So you've got food, clothing, shelter, transportation and then child care," Borchardt said.
But in Wisconsin, this basic need costs more than it does in most other states.
According to the most recent figures from Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of care for an infant in Wisconsin runs more than $10,700 per year. That's more than $200 a week on average. According to figures utilized by the organization, based on the median two-person household income in Wisconsin, one infant's care constitutes more than 13% of a family's yearly income.
Compared with figures from the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point, tuition and fees cost just more than $7,500. That places the cost of infant day care as approximately 30% higher than a year of college.
"Our kids are our investment and I think good, wonderful child care is absolutely an investment we want to make," Jen Kowalski said.
Kowalski oversees Wausau Child Care, Inc. With a staff of nearly 90 people spanning three locations, the organization is licensed to care for more than 280 children. And Kowalski says in the child care industry, parents get what they pay for.
Wausau Child Care holds an accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. A point Kowalski states as important because of the selective nature by which the honors are given, and because it maintains the center holds to standards above what is required by the state.
"We have to pay a teacher for every group of children we have come, in every specific age group," Kowalski said.
In group child care situations, the ratio of children to care provider is regulated by the state in which the business is operating. Though ratios vary by age group, Wisconsin's ratios are in many cases much lower than what other states permit, impacting the price families pay.
Consider that in Mississippi the average cost to care for a four-year-old is about $6,000 a year less than what is the average in Wisconsin.
But in every stated age classification category, Mississippi allows a higher child to supervisor ratio.
According to the regulation guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and the Mississippi Office of Health Protection, Wisconsin permits a one to six care ratio for two-year-olds in child center care. That means for every six, two-year-olds in a center, one staff supervisor must be present.
Mississippi permits double that amount, allowing one person to legally care for twelve two-year-olds at a time. Though that allowance means more available child care positions, the statistics speak volume according to area child care providers when concerning safety.
"The more staff you have the more quality you can give," Teresa Parks said.
Parks directs the Early Childhood Learning Center at Trinity Lutheran School in Wausau. She says the standards in care considered normal in Wisconsin are not so in other states.
"We not only have CPR and First Aid, but I also require SIDS training, and child abuse and neglect awareness training. And we are mandated reporters for that," Parks continued.
Arguably the most important part in finding a suitable child care arrangement for any family is ensuring that the people given the responsibility to mind children know how to keep them safe. But when it comes to having staff members knowledgeable on health matters like child CPR, few states mandate it. Wisconsin is one of only nine states in the country that mandate those who care for children in licensed facilities know how to perform CPR on children.
An additional point adding to the cost of care is demand is that many programs fill up quickly.
Parks said of the Early Childhood Learning Center at Trinity Lutheran School, that many programs often fill up months in advance.
That's a sentiment child care resource specialists hear often.
"We get calls from families that just learn they're going to have a baby and they're already calling us looking for child care," Kelly Borchardt of the Child Care Resource and Referral Center said. "There's the affordability piece, accessibility piece and sometimes the really good programs have a waiting list," she continued.
When it comes to paying for care, referral specialists and providers agree: start early, be flexible and be informed.
"If you're finding day care is more than you thought there are options. There's varied schedules, there's tuition assistance in some way shape or form. So really all you can do is ask," Kowalski of Wausau Child Care Center said.
According to Deb Mohelnitzky of Alphabet Soup Child Care, the Wausau center instituted a tuition restructure program in March 2013. The fee restructuring means a decrease in care costs for children enrolled.
Mohelnitzky says the tiered payment approach lowers the weekly cost parents pay and is in response to reports indicating families in Marathon County having difficulty paying for child care.
"Alphabet Soup recognizes the economic impact on our community and the sacrificies that parents are making to meet the needs of their family," Mohelnitzky said in a media press release.
"We also have part time and hourly, so it would be cheaper, so that would be a good area to start with," Teresa Parks said of the Early Childhood Center at Trinity.
Though income-restrictions apply, utilizing government aid programs like the federal preschool Head Start program and the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families can help families that qualify as well.
But for families not qualifying for government assistance, child care referral specialists say community-based organizations can and are trying to do more with helping families.
"Right now United Way is funding two local group child care centers to provide sliding fees," Micki Krueger of the not-for-profit Child Care Connection said.
Krueger says organizations like hers are great resources for families in finding child care solutions.
Child Care Connection is working on a grant proposal that would incorporate United Way of Marathon County funds to help struggling families not qualifying for state assistance.
"The program is going to be called Good Start Grants and it is meant to follow the families within Marathon County," Krueger said.
Pending grant approval Krueger hopes the program could become a reality as early as 2014.
Oftentimes individual centers and community organizations offer programs that can help families with children enrolled in child care who encounter fiscal emergencies like the loss of an income.
"In Wood County there's a similar program funded by the United Way that helps families through more of like an emergency crisis. It would help a family through that situation and cover the cost of their child care" Kelly Borchardt of the Child Care Resource and Referral Center said.
An item that all providers and referral specialists agree on is the importance of budgeting and financial planning when it comes to child care issues.
"It would be really important for families to really take a look at their budget, you know really think about what your expenses are going to be, what kid of income you're expecting so that you can really be intentional about making your payments," Borchardt said.
But for all families dealing with the issue of child care, though the care for each needs to be unique, there are many resources available in searching for quality programs and in finding ways to make it more affordable.
"It's a starting point," Borchardt said.
LINKS TO CHILD CARE ORGANIZATIONS AND PROGRAMS REFERENCED IN THIS STORY:
Child Care Resource and Referral Center of Central Wisconsin: 210 East Jackson Street, Wisconsin Rapids. Phone: 715-423-4114. Web: here.
Child Care Connection, Inc. Resource and Referral Agency: 407 West Main Street, Merrill. Phone: 715-539-9779 / 1-800-628-8534. Web: here.
United Way of Marathon County: 137 River Drive, Wausau. Phone: 715-848-2927. Listing of child care partner programs with sliding fees here.
Wausau Child Care, Inc.: 505 North 28th Street, Wausau. Phone: 715-848-1437. Web: here.
Early Childhood Education Center, Trinity Lutheran School: 501 Stewart Avenue, Wausau. Phone: 715-842-0769. Web: here.
Alphabet Soup Child Care, Inc.: 212 East Randolph Street, Wausau. Phone: 715-675-0557.
Marshfield Area United Way: 156 South Central Avenue, Marshfield. Phone: 715-384-5565. Help for Hard Times Assistance Program here.
Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy Program: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Program information and eligibility guidelines here.
Early Head Start National Resource Center: Program information and enrollment guidelines here.
Child Care Aware of America: "Parents and the high cost of child care." Full report available here.
COMPARING THE COSTS OF AREA CHILD CARE CENTERS WITH FAMILY COSTS (Source: Child Care Connection statistics)
Group Child Care Average Rates in Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon and Taylor Counties here.
Group Child Care Average Rates in Adams, Clark, Marquette, Portage, Waushara and Wood Counties here.
Family Child Care Average rates in Adams, Clark, Marquette, Portage, Waushara and Wood Counties here.
Family Child Care Average Rates in Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon and Taylor Counties here.