Child care crisis: Day cares, preschools struggle to balance children's needs with costs

Jody Zabriskie owns A-Z Building Blocks Preschool in Draper. (KSL TV)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

DRAPER — Even before the pandemic, many in the child care industry say they faced a crisis. Now with more children bringing their COVID-19 related stress to preschool combined with an employee shortage, providers are struggling to meet needs without pricing out parents.

"We actually doubled our teachers in the classroom because they need emotional support, and that's challenging because it's hard to find people," said Jody Zabriskie. She's seen more children with behavior problems at her A-Z Building Blocks Preschool in Draper that need extra time and TLC.

"Make sure our team understands when these kids come in with extra stress, be patient with them," Zabriskie said.

Jamie Bitton has seen the same thing at her Progressive Preschool in South Ogden.

"Their frustrations started to become visible in class," she said. "It's really challenging."

Masks have also made it tougher for young children to learn to talk and recognize facial cues, so instead, providers say kids are using physicality to get what they want.

These trends have added to what providers call a child care crisis. Both facilities have waiting lists because they don't have the staff to operate at full capacity.

The Utah Division of Workforce Services documented the child care shortage in a report in March 2020. Researchers found Utah needs 274 more licensed-center child care programs and 1,258 licensed in-home care programs.

That need continues after the pandemic, according to DWS, and addressing it is critical to the pandemic recovery.

Children play at Progressive Preschool in South Ogden.
Children play at Progressive Preschool in South Ogden. (Photo: KSL TV)

Centers have a hard time hiring workers because they can't pay competitive wages.

"We're competing with different industries that can pay better than we can," Bitton said.

Preschools and day cares operate with thin margins, as they struggle to keep child care affordable.

"How do you tell a parent, because of staff, we doubled classes, this or that, we have to raise you 10%? You can't tell a parent that," Zabriskie said.

Child Care Aware of America data shows the already high costs of child care.

The cost of child care in Utah for one preschooler and an infant exceeds $17,000 a year. That's about 20% of a two-parent annual income and higher than tuition at a public university.

Centers will struggle to hang on while still providing quality care. Owners are heartened by state support during the COVID-19 pandemic that has helped them offset increased costs.

But they know that won't happen moving forward.

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