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Wyoming Families Face Steep Child Care Costs

Economic Policy Institute

In honor of Mother’s Day, and with Father’s Day right around the corner, children, young and old, will pause to thank their parents for the sacrifices they’ve made. Across the country, child care is one of the biggest expenses families face. It can cost more to put an infant in daycare than it costs to send an 18-year-old to college. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tennessee Watson spoke with Linda Barton from the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance about access to child care in the state.

Tennessee Watson: Linda, you work to advocate for access to afterschool programming and summer learning for kids. I know that's about more than just child care, but I'm wondering what can you tell me about what you see working families in Wyoming facing when it comes to access to care for kids outside of school? 

Linda Barton: Summer in particular really poses some major challenges for our families who are working maybe even more than one job. And certainly, if it's a two-parent family, working two shift jobs, and that becomes very much an issue about what is going to happen during those summer months with their young children and even their older children. 

TW: Your work as an advocate has you connecting with folks from across the country, so from those exchanges that you have with people in other states, how does Wyoming compare when it comes to access to child care and enriching programs? 

LB: Well you know that's an interesting question in terms of comparison. I think all states are struggling from lack of opportunities to have access to child care facilities. I think in Wyoming it probably is exacerbated because we live in small communities. So the centers are small. Or the child care facilities—either a home-based program or a school-based program—just don’t have the capacity. We don't have the human resources and the staff that can really open up and accept more children. So there are waiting lists in our smaller communities for slots for kids to be in either a home-based program or even one that is in a center somewhere. 

And they're very expensive. I've heard from folks that during the school year they're spending maybe $400 or $500 a month if they're lucky per child just on the afterschool care. If they're doing summer I think the costs are probably prohibitive for many families even if there were a slot. So I do think we have an issue here about what to do with so many children that need to be in places while their parents are working. 

TW: You know one thing I was thinking about is parents might just see that as an individual struggle. That's part of being a working parent. You've got to figure out the logistics of summer camps and summer care. But I'm wondering for you as an advocate, how do you approach this from a policy perspective? 

LB: Available money. And in Wyoming, there doesn't seem to be a stomach for providing more funding. For instance, state-funded even pre-K courses or state-funded programs available for kids. And without having access to those programs, and not having the support of cities and counties, and on a state level to develop policies that would help support working families, is, in my opinion, a tragedy, that we are not taking that on more and making that available. It is the least we can do for our hardworking parents. That's my opinion. I know it sounds a little tough but it is, in my opinion, something that should be number one priority for this state. 

TW: And there's been some good news on the funding front. The 2018 federal budget included increased funding for afterschool and summer learning, as well as more funds for Headstart and subsidies to help low-income families pay for childcare. 

LB: Yes, we were very very fortunate in getting increased funding for 2018. But 2019 is looming and in the proposed federal budget for 2019 afterschool and summer programs are still being zeroed out. That's the proposal. We still need to fight to retain those funds. In Wyoming, we have about 14,000 kids that are in afterschool and summer learning programs. But there's another 35,000 out there waiting to be part of one. So we're still struggling in terms of increasing access and increasing the funding for creating more programs, and certainly expanding the existing programs so that they can hire more staff, open it up to more kids and do more things, and maybe expand their summer programs out a bit so that they're operating longer hours and more weeks in the summer. Those are challenging issues that we are all facing. 

TW: Linda Barton is the executive director of the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance. Thank you so much for your time. 

LB: Well thank you for letting me share some information with you. 

Additional resources for parents: 

Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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