Parents struggle to secure spots, cover costs
|Instructors Molly Davis, left,
and Callie Rickerman sing an audience-participation song with
their group of 5-year-olds at the Durango Early Learning Center
on Monday. The center is one of 23 licensed day-cares in Durango,
where some families have to wait up to a
year for a spot for a child./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
Isabel Viana knew finding child care in Durango was going to
With only 23 licensed day-care centers and 14 licensed home providers,
some parents can wait up to a year for a spot to open for their
So Viana developed a game plan: pound the pavement and be persistent.
When her daughter Zoe, now 3, was just 6 months old, Viana took
her to child-care providers throughout Durango and interviewed
“I was very picky and still am,” Viana said. “I
wanted to find a place I liked.”
Viana decided she wanted Zoe to attend the Durango Early Learning
Center, a school licensed to care for children up to 10-years-old.
When Zoe was 8 months old, Viana put her on the waiting list
at the center which at that time, accepted only students over
the age of 2 BD. Then came the second half of Viana’s plan,
the persistence part.
“I just kept checking with them every month,” Viana
said. “I’d come by with Zoe and say I just want her
to get used to the place.”
Viana, a freelance writer who works from home, needed to put
Zoe into child care so she could get some work done.
“For three years, I couldn’t (work),” she said.
“It was just an illusion.”
Viana’s plan finally paid off. Two months before Zoe’s
third birthday, the center had an opening for her, and Viana seized
Getting her daughter into child care “was an ordeal,”
Viana said. “But I was prepared.”
Even with all the preparation, no one is assured a spot in the
school of his or her choice, and often even finding a place with
a licensed child-care provider is a crap shoot.
That’s especially true for those who aren’t prepared
and who don’t have 2BD years to spend trying to get their
children into day care. Many wind up turning to relatives and
friends or unlicensed strangers.
The shortage of licensed providers in Durango is acute.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the biggest
problem,” said Shannon Bassett, child-care resource and
referral coordinator for La Plata Family Center’s Coalition.
“I get probably five calls a day from people who have already
tried calling everybody.”
Linda Ramirez, the director of Children’s World, said the
biggest need is for care for infants and toddlers. Children’s
World is at capacity right now, she said, with 26 families.
“We have a really long waiting list,” Ramirez said.
“We feel so bad. We have people on there for a year.”
The cost of care
And once a child gets one of the coveted spots, there’s
no guarantee parents can afford it. “The wages in Durango
are lower,” Ramirez said. “We charge $30 a day. That’s
hard for some parents to afford.”
|Morgan Martinez, 2, dips her paintbrush
into a Dixie cup at the Durango Early Learning Center on Monday
morning./Photo by Todd Newcomer
At child care centers in Durango, the average price for infants
is about $30 a day, $28 for toddlers and around4
$26 for kids aged 3 to 5, Bassett said.
The prices generally are lower with home-care providers. And
prices typically decrease as a child gets older because state-mandated
ratios for students to teachers increase. There must be one teacher
for every five infants, whereas there can be more toddlers to
Parents can apply for financial help from the county. Income
and whether parents are working, looking for a job or going to
school are factors in determining eligibility.
Income eligibility depends on household size. For example, for
a family of four, the eligibility level is $2,300 gross monthly
“It’s really hard for a two-parent household (to
get county aid) because of the low income limit,” said Debbie
Berry, a senior resource advisor for the county’s program.
The county has about 160 families in its child care programs,
And providers are not getting rich off the situation either.
“It’s a high overhead,” said Rachael Sharp,
director of River Mist child-care center. “Unless you have
alternative sources of income, it ends up in the tuition.
“It seems expensive to parents and like low pay to staff,”
she added. “It’s something we’re working on
in the early child-care community.”
In the meantime, there’s a high turnover in early child
care employees because of the pay rate, Bassett said.
For parents who can’t find licensed help, the county has
a program in which an unlicensed friend or relative willing to
provide the care can contract with the county and get paid, although
the pay is typically lower than what day-care providers generally
But for some, it’s a better option than going with an unlicensed
Licensing is done by the state and includes background checks,
training courses on how to care for children and medical courses,
such as CPR and first aid. To maintain the license, training in
each area must be renewed on a regular basis.
Unlicensed providers have no such training and no state-conducted
By law, however, unlicensed providers cannot run full child-care
centers from their homes. The law says that an unlicensed provider
cannot care for more than two families’ children on a regular
Many of Durango’s child-care centers also offer curricula,
so the children are learning as they’re being cared for.
But for some, the main thing is not early education, but simply
“In some cases, we have people who want to be here because
they know the staff; they know our programs,” said Callie
Temple, a teacher at Durango Early Learning Center. “And
other people come because it’s the only place they can get.”
Persistence pays off
Jeanne Szczech was looking for a place where her two daughters
could get a school experience.
She moved to Durango in July from California, but started calling
child-care centers in May. In California, waiting lists aren’t
common, she said.
But here in Durango, Szczech’s persistence paid off.
“I called religiously every week so they would remember
my name,” she said.
Her 4-year-old daughter got into the school in August, and her
2BD-year-old daughter started at the end of October.
Szczech, a mortgage broker who works from home, was lucky. Child
care wasn’t imperative, but she wanted her two girls to
have a school experience. They attend twice a week.
“People are on multiple lists,” she said. “I
knew I had a great shot because I only needed two days a week.
Five days a week, full time – that’s difficult.”
For many parents, it seems impossible, and all they can do is