Parents are their child’s first and best teacher. They deserve the right to choose which care situation is best for their child, whether that child is at home or anywhere else. When parents decide to entrust their children to early care and learning professionals outside their homes, they deserve to know their children will be safe, healthy, and learning while in their care. 

Families are the building blocks of our communities. 

No parent or caregiver should go to sleep at night worrying about how they will pay their bills or whether they will have reliable child care the next day. 

These three goals are central to addressing Utah's current child care crisis:

Care for kids must be affordable.

Utah parents and caregivers are making choices for their families based on the costs of child care. These costs limit the choices families have about: when to have children; how many children to have; what jobs to take or careers to pursue; whether to stay home with their kids; or when to enter the workforce. 

Background: Affordability

The reality is in most two-parent families in Utah, both parents work (53%), creating a need for child care. Child care is expensive. Most families struggle to pay weekly or monthly "tuition," which can cost as much as a mortgage or college tuition. Only 14% of eligible Utah kids receive support from the state to help pay for their child care. With an average annual cost for infant care for $9,193 and toddler care for $7,678, Utah is one of 33 states where infant care is more expensive than college

It's even worse for larger families. For a family of four utilizing child care for just two children—an infant and a 4-year-old—it costs $16,871/year.  A typical family in Utah would have to spend 17% of their income on child care for an infant and a 4-year-old. This is more than double the recommendation for affordability, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

And while inflation has subsided for most other industries, the cost of child care has not relented. As post-COVID inflation is starting to ease, the same cannot be said for child care costs. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows the average price of child care services has increased by 6% in one year. This is nearly twice the overall inflation rate (3.2%).

Policies That Promote Affordability

1. Lower costs for families.

State Child Tax Credit

Between 2020 and 2021, Congress’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit cut child poverty rates by more than 40 percent. Like the federal child tax credit, many states have adopted their own state-level child tax credits (CTC) as a strategy to support family economic stability. Each state's eligibility, refundability, and credit amount varies. Whether a parent chooses to stay at home or chooses child care, Utah's adoption of a refundable state CTC would put more money in the pockets of families to help ease the costs of care. Utah’s child tax credit, established in 2023 but not available to be claimed until 2024 taxes are filed in 2025, is among the least generous of all state child tax credits. The $1,000 per year per child credit can only be claimed for children ages 1 to 3. It is unavailable to children in the lowest income families, due to its non-refundable nature. Because the tax credit begins to phase out for joint-filing households making more than $54,000, there may be no families in Utah who will receive the full benefit per child. Analysis by Voices for Utah Children suggests that only about 7.3% of Utah children will be able to claim some (but not all) portion of this credit. To support as many families with young children as possible, Utah should expand its child tax credit in the following ways: include children who are in the lowest income families, by making the credit refundable; include all children who potentially require care while parents are working (ages 0 to 12); make the credit available to middle- and upper middle-income families, by raising the income eligibility range’s upper threshold to $104,000; allow taxpayers to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to claim the credit; increase the size of the credit from $1,000 per child per year to at least $2,000 per child per year; and allow families to receive the credit monthly, rather than annually when filing their income taxes. More info here.

State Child Care Tax Credit

Like the state child tax credit, many states have adopted their child care tax credits to help ease the burden of care for children under the age of six. Research indicates that additional income from working family tax credits is associated with reduced poverty, improved child and maternal health, higher educational achievement for students, and a boost to local and state economies. More info here.

Make Current Tax Credits Refundable

The best way to structure a tax credit involves something called “refundability,” which means the credit is fully available to families living on low incomes. If a tax credit is refundable, families receive the full amount of the credit even if their tax bill is less than the amount of the credit. The remaining amount goes to the family as a refund. More info here.

Increase Child Care Subsidy Participation

Of eligible children in Utah, only 14% receive child care subsidies. The State should pursue ways to automatically enroll eligible families and remove barriers to participation. More info here.

Increase Child Care Subsidy Rates

Currently, state child care subsidies are set at 75% of the market rate charged in the region where a child is enrolled in a child care program. This is not enough to cover the cost of tuition, much less the true cost of providing quality child care. State subsidy payments should align with actual costs, as well as private pay practices, so that child care businesses can serve more children recieving state child care subsidies. More info here.

Stop Denying Subsidies to Children Based on Their Parents' Immigration Status

The federal government, which pays for Utah's child care subsidy program, has made it clear that child care subsidies are a benefit enjoyed by children. A child's access to safe and healthy child care should not be determined by their parents' immigration status. Utah's practice of denying subsidies to eligible children, simply because of the immigration status of their parents, must end. More info here.

Cap Child Care Costs

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable child care as no more than 7% of a family’s annual income. Capping the cost of child care at 7% for working families would ease the cost burden and grant parents more opportunities to enter the labor force. It's estimated that if child care were capped at 7% of income, 11,540 more parents in Utah would have the option to work. More info here.

Monthly Stipends for Each Child

Millions of stay-at-home parents and relatives each year provide unpaid labor but deserve to be compensated. And families who choose child care outside the home lose money that could be spent on necessities and savings. By providing families a per-child stipend to cover some of the costs of care - regardless of whether the child is cared for by a parent or by a licensed child care provider - we can better honor families' choices regarding the care for their kids. More info here.

2. Increase access to family-friendly workplace benefits.

State Employer Child Care Tax Credits

Businesses need to attract and retain qualified employees. But with the prohibitive cost of child care, more and more parents are leaving the workforce. Employers can help their employees overcome common child care challenges by: giving stipends to help employees pay for child care; subsidizing local child care programs that serve their employees; allowing more of their employees to work remotely; and giving every employee (from the C-suite to the maintenance staff) at least twelve weeks of paid parental leave. The Federal Government offers tax incentives for these programs and 18 states have an employer child care tax credit or employer tax incentive for child care. More info here.

Increase Corporate Income Tax

Many employers, especially smaller businesses, cannot help with their employees' child care needs alone. For example, the high costs, liability, or geographic spread of employees make offering on-site child care impossible. However, by paying a little more in corporate taxes, these businesses can pool their contributions to support community-based child care and other programs that help relieve child care costs for their employees. More info here.

Paid Parental/Family Leave 

Child care for infants is by far the most expensive and the hardest to find. Paid family leave allows parents to stay home with their child and avoid the high costs of infant care. Plus, paid family leave is great for birth outcomes and maternal health. Utah does not require private employers to offer any paid family leave. Utah offers state government employees only six weeks of paid maternity leave and three weeks of paid paternity leave. More info here.

Flexible Work Policies 

Allowing employees to work from home, or work non-traditional hours can help reduce stress for families with children. While helpful for many families, however, these policies do not help workers whose jobs require in-person attendance and consistent work hours, such as restaurant employees, teachers, and first responders. For those employees, offering ample sick time and family leave, as well as allowing parents to leave work without punishment to handle child-related issues, can be incredibly helpful. More info here.

Government-Sponsored Partnerships

Some states have pursued programs that support public-private partnerships between government, businesses, and child care providers to purchase slots for employees and subsidize the cost of care for employees. PartnerUp!, a program in Wisconsin, provides funding for child care providers and businesses that want to help sponsor the cost their employee's child care. More info here.

Care for kids must be accessible.

Utah parents deserve a real choice when choosing which form of child care is best for their family, whether that’s at a child care center, in the care of grandparents, or with a stay-at-home parent. Increasing access to affordable, high-quality child care improves parent choice by providing more options in the marketplace.

Background: Accessibility

There is little incentive, besides a love for children, to open a child care program. As a labor-intensive industry, operations are expensive and most child care owners operate on razor-thin profit margins (less than 1%). The average annual provider wage in Utah is $12.87/hour (or $26,770/year). Raising wages is vital for a functional child care system in Utah. Low wages and a lack of access to benefits, including healthcare and retirement, has made the profession unsustainable, leading to high rates of turnover estimated at 26-40% of the workforce leaving their jobs each year. Since Utah’s current child care system only meets 36% of the state's need, we must invest in the early child care profession to attract and retain a robust workforce. We must also acknowledge that the current child care system is subsidized by unsustainable financial and personal sacrifices by early childhood educators and their families. With the largest driver of quality in child care being interactions between the child and caregiver, kids lose without a well-compensated, skilled, and engaged workforce.

Policies That Promote Accessibility

1. Support a well-compensated, skilled, and engaged workforce.

Wage Supplement Programs

In 2022, Utah's Office of Child Care awarded educators with a $2,000 pandemic-related bonus. For many child care workers, this amounts to a 10% increase in annual salary! Many states have chosen to continue these bonuses to help make sure child care workers can make at least $15/hr, and keep child care businesses competitive with fast food restaurants and retail stores. Other states, such as New Mexico, have formal state-sponsored wage supplement programs that encourage child care professionals to pursue education and remain in the field. More info here.

Pay Parity with K-12 Educators

While the median hourly wage for kindergarten teachers is $28.28, the median hourly wage for child care educators is $10.47. We must treat child care professionals as the educators they are. Child care provides the building blocks for a child’s education and prepares them for K-12. Some states have instituted pay parity programs to ensure that all early childhood educator - whether in child care settings or in public school classrooms - are able to make a good living. More info here.

Employment Benefits

Without access to health care and retirement benefits, child care professionals face lifelong economic instability. In Washington, the state covers the cost of monthly healthcare premiums for employees of licensed child care facilities. Government intervention is also necessary to that ensure child care professionals have access to benefits like paid time off, paid sick leave, and paid parental leave. Read more here.

Automatic Child Care Subsidy Eligiblity

Recently, Kentucky allowed child care professionals who are working more than 20 hours a week in a licensed program to automatically qualify for the state's child care subsidy program. This simple change will allow more child care providers to save money on child care expenses for their own children, and encourage them to continue in the child care industry. More info here.

2. Invest in the child care industry.

Confront the Funding Cliff

Utah’s child care industry would not have been able to weather the COVID pandemic if not for $572 million in federal emergency dollars. In Utah, this infusion of desperately-needed financial support saved 17,467 child care spots. Of providers that received stabilization grants, 92% said the funding helped them stay open, 46% used funds to pay debts taken on in the course of the pandemic, and 75% used the funds for compensation but still struggle to provide competitive wages and benefits. When this funding runs out, problems in the sector will worsen. Utah will see more child care program closures, much higher child care costs, and more dramatic workforce turnover due to lowered wages. Utah must invest state dollars to preserve and improve our child care system. More info here.

State Investment

Of state funding for kids, Utah only spends 1% of that on early childhood education for children under the age of six. Any budget is a moral statement of priorities. Utah must make a commitment to early learning to solve the child care crisis and strengthen the workforce. More info here.

Voter-Approved Early Childhood Education Funds

In lieu of federal action, many states have chosen to pursue early childhood education funds with dedicated sources of state revenue through ballot measures. Communities can support a fund with sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes or taxes on high-income earners, hotel/lodging taxes, cannabis taxes, or by setting aside existing revenue from a locality's general fund. There are nearly 50 voter-approved children's funds throughout the country. More info here.

3. Modernize local laws to support child care programs.

Invest in Rural Areas

Rural areas face unique child care challenges. Providing quality, licensed services in many rural places is not financially viable when the business model relies on sufficient population density and supply of parents with the ability to pay. The state should consider additional financial incentives for rural providers. More info here.

Modernize City and County Ordinances

Localities must identify and modernize ordinances that unintentionally inhibit growth in child care programs. Many Utah cities have rules that include unreasonable parking requirements, unnecessary zoning restrictions, and other bureaucratic barriers. Unfortunately, child care programs are not tax-collecting businesses, which means some cities and towns prioritize other businesses over child care. But cities and towns must play a role in confronting child care problems if they want families to live and work in their communities. More info here.

License All Qualified Providers

In 2011, approximately 750 licensed child care providers lost their licenses due to the Utah Immigration Accountability and Enforcement Act. These providers in good standing with the state provided critical culturally competent care in communities with pressing labor needs. Immigration restrictions have no place in child care licensing. This restriction should be removed. More info here.

Business Coaching and Technology Assistance

Child care programs are most often small businesses. In the same way we incentivize entrepreneurship in other sectors, we must do the same in child care. Utah can invest in modern business software, paired with intensive business coaching, to help child care business owners keep their enrollment full, their parents engaged, and their invoices paid. More info here.

Early Educator Tax Credits

The state can use tax credits, as for K-12 educators, to support the expenses associated with providing early education. Some states have created state tax credits for providers to apply toward childcare business costs. Others, like Colorado, have created refundable state tax credits for childcare workers based on credentials and length of service. More info here.

Care for kids must meet kids' needs.

Whether a child is in the care of a parent or professional caregiver, multiple studies demonstrate the substantial impact early childhood learning has on a child's development. We are all working towards the same goal: for every child in Utah to have the chance to grow up healthy, strong and ready to learn. Early learning prepares children to learn, grow, and succeed. 

Background: Kids' Needs

Science shows parents and caregivers are key contributors to children’s foundational brain development and each kid's childhood experience can change their life's trajectory. Early supportive and responsive relationships with caregivers can prevent or even reverse the effects of toxic stress in children which can disrupt the development of brain architecture. Children who receive quality early learning demonstrate greater cognitive and socioemotional growth. Care for kids is the foundation of the next generation’s health, stability, and ultimate success. We must support parents, caregivers, and educators who shape the lives of children.

Policies to Meet Kids' Needs

Prioritize Mental Health and Social-Emotional Health

Addressing a child's mental health needs or emotional regulation at an early age helps mitigate the impact later in life. Parents and early educators need the tools and training to improve early childhood mental health and support children’s social-emotional health. Federal COVID funding has allowed Utah's Office of Child Care to contract with the Children's Center, to ensure that child care providers have support in meeting the needs of children with intensive behavioral challenges. This excellent program should be greatly expanded, so more child care programs can participate. More info here

Promote Culturally Responsive Care

Early learning standards and requirements should reflect the diverse settings in which children are cared for. Whether that is in a classroom where staff development and quality rating systems further principles of equity, or if culturally a child's earliest learning best happens at home or with grandparents. We can expand our state's Friend, Family & Neighbor child care subsidy program, so more families who wish to keep their children in the care of relatives are able to do so. Programs that assist immigrants and refugees become licensed child care providers have been successful in the past, and can be expanded with additional funding. More info here.

Support Kids with Developmental Disabilities

The child care crisis disproportionately affects children with disabilities. The general lack of investment in child care, coupled with poor oversight and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, means that too many families struggle to find appropriate care and early learning opportunities for children with disabilities. More info here.

Increase State Investment in Home Visiting Programs 

Home visiting programs provide parents with tools, support, and knowledge to create a safe home environment, establish a secure bond with their infant, and understand child development and early learning. Home visiting programs are proven to reduce child maltreatment, improve maternal and child health, and promote positive parent-child interactions. In recent years, Utah has cut funding for home visiting programs throughout the state, despite the positive outcomes. We must restore and expand support for these programs. More info here.

Support Household Financial Stability

Policies that help families access sufficient household resources to overcome economic hardship also help child outcomes. Children flourish when their material needs are met and they have nurturing and stimulating relationships with consistent caregivers. More info here.

Paid Family Leave 

Expanding paid family leave means parents, who are a child first and best teacher, get to spend more dedicated time with their newborns, without stressing about finances. Paid family leave can also be used to care for children when child care arrangements fall through, and to help parents care for children with illnesses that prevent them from attending a child care program. More info here.

Professional Development Incentives

Professional development is key for early educators' understanding of child development and learning. Utah offers many different professional development and continuing education programs but educational attainment can have additional barriers. Programs should be designed to put the students’ needs first and remove barriers to access (e.g., loan forgiveness programs, evening and weekend courses, extended bus or train service, child care services aligned with course and professional development offerings). Utah should also consider reinstating the annual state professional development incentives. More info here.

Education for Unlicensed Providers

In Utah, unlicensed child care providers can take care of up to 12 children at a time, including the providers own children and up to six client children. But unlicensed providers have no required oversight or safety requirements. The state should ensure access to safety training and quality professional development for unlicensed providers as well as incentivize licensure. More info here.

Incentivize Quality Ratings Participation

Child care quality rating and improvement systems are still relatively new and few studies show improved outcomes on child outcomes. Still, they have the potential to offer parents more transparency in their choices for care. In order for quality standard programs to work, providers must believe the standards are attainable. Utah needs to ensure that participation in its Child Care Quality System (CCQS) is worth the time, energy and financial investment by child care programs. A quality rating system can't be so strict and inflexible that it keeps even excellent programs from participating. More info here.

Decrease bureaucratic barriers without "deregulation."

Complex regulations, including differing rules at the state and city levels, can place a heavy burden on providers. However, there is little evidence suggesting that health and safety regulations are the cause of the decline of providers. That is more likely caused by high operation costs, initial start-up barriers, and the long hours required of providers (often 12-hour days).  There are bureaucratic barriers that can be alleviated without negatively impacting the health and safety of children, though. Common-sense parking and zoning ordinances, flexibility in local planning and development, and more streamlined technology for participation in state programs can all produce positive benefits without adjusting important health and safety rquirements. More info here.