The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Save up for college or pay for day care?
BY CATHY JETT
Think the cost of in-state college tuition for your little bundle of joy will be high?
Putting little Jane or Johnnie in day care can be even more expensive.
That’s the finding of a new study by Child Care Aware of America, a child-care research and advocacy group based in Arlington. It used data provided by State Child Care Resource and Referral Network offices and local agencies.
“From community to community, the high cost of child care is a struggle for most families, not just families with low incomes,” the report said.
Last year, the average cost of full-time child care for an infant—the most expensive because of the higher level of care required—at a day care center ranged from about $4,600 in Mississippi to nearly $15,000 in Massachusetts, according to the Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2012 Report.
Virginia ranked 28th with an annual average cost of $10,670. Currently, the tuition for a semester for an in-state student at the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus is $4,623, or $9,246 for a year. At Germanna Community College, tuition for a 16-credit course load is $2,132 per semester, or $4,264 for a year.
Locally, the highest average rate was in the city of Fredericksburg. It was $208 a week, or $10,816 for a year, according to the nonprofit The Childcare Network’s office in Fredericksburg. The lowest average rate in the area was $141 a week, or $7,332 per year, in Orange, Culpeper and Madison counties.
Stafford and Spotsylvania counties’ average rates fell in between. The average weekly rate for full-time child care for an infant in Stafford was $198, or $10,296 for a year. In Spotsylvania, it was $184 a week or $9,568 for a year.
Child care run out of a home, the most common form in the nation, is less expensive. Last year, the average annual cost of care for an infant in a family child care home ranged from about $4,500 in South Carolina to nearly $10,400 in New York.
The annual average in Virginia was $8,622. Locally, the average weekly rate locally ranged from $118 in Caroline and King George to $160 in Stafford. That translates to $6,163 a year in Caroline and King George and $8,320 a year in Stafford.
Stafford also has the most day care programs run out of homes—82 compared to 32 child care centers, according to data provided by The Childcare Network’s Fredericksburg office. King George has only eight home-based day care providers, the lowest number locally, and four day care centers.
Day care centers in Virginia have to be licensed by the state, unless they are operated by a church and seek an exemption. The Code of Virginia mandates the licensure of family day homes if they provide care for six to 12 children (exclusive of the provider’s own children and any children who reside in the home).
Currently, this area has 77 licensed child care centers, 22 religious-exempt centers and one military-approved center. It also has 112 licensed family child care centers, 97 that are unregulated and 24 that are voluntarily registered.
“Licensing is one of the things that makes a program better,” said Regina Maloney, director of The Childcare Network’s Fredericksburg office. “If it’s state-licensed, the staff have to have high-quality training throughout the year, and you’re more likely to find trained staff.”
Yet some parents still feeling the effects of the recession are switching from licensed child care to more informal forms of care to help make ends meet, according to Child Care Aware’s report. It points out that there are no checks for basic health and safety standards and other practices that promote healthy child development.
“The high cost of child care forces parents to make difficult decisions,” the report said. “Parents want quality child care for their children. Unfortunately, safety, health and school readiness comes at a cost that many parents cannot afford.”
Child Care Aware is asking Congress to review state child care policies to ensure that the money it provides states through Child Care and Development Block grants is spent only in safe, quality settings. When the grant was last authorized in 1996, its primary goal was to subsidize low-income families’ monthly cost of child care so they could work. The quality of care, the report said, came in a distant second.
Day care centers and home-based providers also took a hit during the recession, Maloney said. A few closed or switched hands, and some lowered their prices.
Rates have risen since then, and are now higher than they were before the economy took a nose dive. Local rates in 2009, for example, ranged from $120 a week for day care centers in Caroline to $195 a week in the city of Fredericksburg.
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
FINDING GOOD CARE
Parents can search for day care providers on The Childcare Network’s website, thechildcarenetwork.org. Regina Maloney, director of the group’s Fredericksburg office, said that while there appears to be an adequate supply of day care locally, all are not created equal.
“Is it really good child care or is it just there?” she said. “Nationally, about one-third is really high quality, one-fourth to one-third is not good and the rest are in the middle.”
She recommends checking inspection reports on the network’s website for any licensed facilities that parents are considering, and finding out who their child’s teachers will be.
“I’ve always told parents that the No. 1 consideration is the person that is taking care of your child day-to-day, not the building.”