Without improved child care options, Wyoming faces bleak economic future – WyoFile

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Wyoming’s long-term economic outlook presents a multitude of problems from the need for diversification to imbalances in our tax structures to failing workforce recruitment and the like. And while there are numerous reasons why the state struggles, I want to touch upon a problem that connects to the sanctity of life and is important to every mother and father in the state. It’s the lack of quality child care for our young couples raising small children. 
I was blessed to have been raised in a home where my mother did not work, but that isn’t the reality for many families today. Understanding the needs of mothers and fathers is critical to a stable and growing society. I, for one, would like to see more young families in Wyoming, not less. 
Some may say that child care access has nothing to do with the state’s economics — but they would be wrong. 
The reality of a two-income household struggling to find child care is that it may quickly slip into a one-income household, meaning a worker will have left the workforce to stay home and watch the small child. That might sound OK to some, but it looks a lot different if the person leaving the workforce is their community’s only home health nurse or school bus driver. 
And losing an income only works if the family can afford it; far too many of our families simply cannot. For many families, the realities of cost and access to child care are real and very daunting. Some families turn to “digital babysitters” to care for their children while they continue the work at home or on the ranch, an option studies have shown is not good for the long-term development of the child. But what other choice do they have?
And while economic arguments don’t always hit the mark when you’re trying to persuade on a topic, I heard one recently that would make anyone’s eyes water. The cost of child care over the first 8-10 years of a child’s life was described as the equivalent of an entry-level luxury vehicle. This is the kind of budget-gulping reality young families struggle under and must make real sacrifices to afford. Sacrifices that could include forgoing educational savings for the child’s future, or even home ownership, due to immediate child care costs. 
Child care access affects more than just the economics of our younger families, it touches on children’s education and the state’s overall economic development. The Wyoming Legislature and the governor have recently recognized this as a problem to be addressed, which is why there has been some promising progress. I recently spoke to one lawmaker who explained some of the advances and offered some other thoughts about Wyoming’s future. I’ll share a few here, in addition to some of my own. We both agree these could bring some valuable innovations to the forefront. 
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Let’s start with the progress Wyoming’s already made.
In the past two years, the Legislature has reduced regulations to allow for in-home child care for a small number of children for limited hours a week. And while full lunches are not provided, children can bring small, packed meals. These arrangements are now considered “unregulated.” While some regulation can help in our poorest communities, the realities of over-regulating child care far too often don’t result in any better child care, simply less of it. 
And most federal schemes are enticing at the beginning because of the big dollars attached, but those funds quickly fade away, leaving the state to shoulder the burden of federal regulations without federal money. 
Wyoming’s Department of Family Services is about to launch a new tool that will connect parents to caregivers with child care resources in their area. This will also help the department identify currently unknown and unregulated resources out there and put them into a database for parents to access.
The lawmaker I spoke to described this as “a game changer,” and I would have to agree. Having one place any parent in the state can use to look up  child care options in their community seems small, but it isn’t. Not knowing what choices in child care you might have in your community is a real problem, especially if you are a newcomer. The more choices Wyoming families have, the better. 
This past year, the Legislature passed the Education Savings Account bill that included a pre-K component. And while this doesn’t address all the child care issues (availability for a start), it does create an important tool families need — giving parents the flexibility to start directing education dollars to preschools of their choice at an early age, growing access and school readiness in one fell swoop. A low-income family’s 5-year-old child can attend a preschool, preparing the child for kindergarten and offsetting some of that family’s child care expenses. That’s a win-win for everyone.
Any ideas that put more money into the pockets of Wyoming families with young children (lower taxes, early childhood savings accounts, federal dollar portability, etc.) benefit the state and our economy.  
Other ideas lawmakers might consider include using resources at the Wyoming Business Council to offer no-interest loans and grants to child care providers to improve quality and allow growing schools to expand and add employees. 
In our larger cities, we need to partner with medium and larger companies to incentivize them to provide onsite child care options. 
There is no absolute silver-bullet solution for child care access and affordability in Wyoming, because it’s an issue that needs an a la carte approach that gives families a variety of choices. Making sure the state clearly differentiates between child care and preschool can help lawmakers find consensus as well, one lawmaker made clear to me. 
There is no doubt that child care, like quality education, are obvious non-negotiables for families looking to relocate for work. So when it’s lacking, it becomes an impediment to the state’s recruitment efforts. 
We all need to come to the table with solutions. Simply saying “no” to every idea isn’t acceptable. It’s an obstacle to improved childhood development and real economic growth. 
Ignoring the struggles of our young families won’t help our communities and it won’t help Wyoming. It simply means more families will flee the state as the critics shrug their shoulders.
We can recruit more families to Wyoming, but we need to find solutions to problems like the lack of child care and preschool. As a free market Republican, I believe we can incentivize excellent child care and put more dollars in the pockets of our young families while giving them the tools to save for their children’s educational future. And let’s give them options for every phase of their child’s educational journey. Wyoming will enjoy an expanding economy when we don’t turn a blind eye to this critical issue. 
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Amy Edmonds is a former state legislator from Cheyenne. She can be reached at amyinwyoming@icloud.com. More by Amy Edmonds
4 Comments
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Amy, an excellent article….good thoughts and ideas. But as one commenter pointed out….sacrifices and adjustments were made by families to ensure that their children received quality care. Throwing money at a problem has never provided a long term solution. People need to rethink this issue and become proactive, rather than reactive. The obvious place to start is in family planning, and until young couples start doing so this will always be a problem. More household income does not necessarily equate to a better balanced, healthy family life style.
Childcare was an issue for our family 30 years ago (and was my biggest stress about having kids), and I think it’s only gotten worse. Initially my husband worked seasonally and was able to spend the first winter home with our son. He looked at getting a job, but when we factored in childcare he’d only be making $2-3/hour which wasn’t worth it. As our family grew we lucked out and over the years at three great child care providers who were licensed to have kids in their home. Though we were stressed at times when two of them said they were closing down their childcare business, which made us panic. They then contacted us separately and said they would still watch our kids, but they had to take this drastic measure because too many of the other parents weren’t paying and were months behind in their bills. This totally shocked me because even when times were tough, paying for childcare was up there with the mortgage!
For years my brother and sister-in-law who started their family about the same time, worked opposite shifts so one of them would be home with the kids – not great on the marriage, but it worked for them.
As a teacher, my husband see’s the kids who come to school tired or miss school completely because they have to take care of their siblings (he teaches 5th grade) because the family can’t afford child care, or their normal sitter isn’t available. It’s a real problem and I only hope I’m in a position to help my kids when they start having kids.
We don’t face uncertain economic times because of so called child care issues. But government has made it tough to find baby sitters because of all rules regulations. Teenagers can’t do baby sitting any more because of these rules. In past hundreds of thousands teenager girls made extra money baby sitting. We can bring those days back if we wanted to. Government has no place in all of our lives. Teenagers learned responsibility and life’s job skills. This problem can be solved. But won’t
Larry… just stop. Teenagers can still babysit. They just can’t run a daycare with a bunch of kids without a license.
Your false equivalecies are tiresome.

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