The delicate balance for working parents and child care professionals

Photographs by Christina Clack

RENO, Nev. — With two children under the age of three, a loving husband and a family pet, Caitlin is a young mother not unlike many others in northern Nevada, striving for the perfect work-life balance.

“Cost, one hundred percent” states Caitlin describing her biggest challenge when it comes to daycare for her two young children.

“There was a point where daycare was so expensive, I was literally working to take the kids to daycare … We didn’t see much of my check.”

Nevada often ranks within the top five worst states for child care due to the cost of care compared to the average annual household income.

The first five years of a child’s life before entering the public school system, can feel like an eternity when parents struggle to find child care that fits a budget.

Diane Nicolet, director of the E.L. Cord Foundation at Truckee Meadows Community College, is concerned with parents only thinking about the cost.

“Our profession has a hurdle, everyone wants us to be very affordable and on the other side of that paradigm, we should be hiring teachers with bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, well affordability doesn’t fit that paradigm”

Working as the director of the TMCC child care center for more than 20 years, Nicolet knows that parents as well as lawmakers also demand her workers to be educated.

Child care workers are also feeling the pinch when they can’t afford to work in the profession that they trained and educated themselves for.

“In many industries, including this one, anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of your expenses are the people” states Nicolet, “we are at a nexus when we come to affordability, availability and quality.”

Parents can view inspection reports for all licensed Washoe County child care facilities by visiting this extensive database.

Feeling the pinch in their wallets, Reno parents may feel that the cost of care is their biggest challenge. However, availability and quality of care are what Reno’s child care industry professionals worry about as more young adults move to the area and start families.

Tammy, a veteran in-home daycare provider and mother of two, understands the struggle of the working parent. She started her business when her oldest was still an infant after struggling to find quality care as a single mother working multiple jobs.

Tammy, a in-home provider for over 20 years, loves caring for children despite the demands of in-home childcare.

In-home daycare providers can watch up to six children in their home, but must meet demanding requirements to become licensed and pass bi-annual inspections.

The demand for in-home care comes from families looking for a more personal touch, with smaller ratios and a more family type environment. Children of mixed ages interact and bond with each other as well as the provider.

As center-based daycares fill up, in-home providers offer Reno more options for their youngest. In Washoe County, Nev. there are more than 25,000 children under the age of five.

Despite almost 100 centers and 150 in-home providers, wait-lists abound across the region.

“When I started there was around 300 and it is now less than half of that” states Tammy attributing the steep reduction to burn-out and the demanding work of an in-home provider.

In 2016, the Child and Family Research Center (CFRC) at the University of Nevada, Reno lost its funding from the Office of Early Care and Education in the Nevada Department of Education to the Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS).

This system seeks to improve the quality of care in centers through a rigorous evaluation and rating system.

A pilot program of the QRIS was applied to in-home providers in Reno. Tammy describes a harrowing experience as in-home providers attempted to achieve perfection.

In a 1-to-5 rating system, “I can score a five because I have a degree, but those who don’t can’t score anything higher than a two” states Tammy.

A professional friend of Tammy’s was rated a one after a small child washed their hands for 15 seconds instead of the 20 second requirement.

Another was marked down for not providing lunch tables with appropriate heights for all six of her mixed aged children.

“It just doesn’t work for in-home” states Tammy. “I think they need to listen to more input from the people who are actually in it from day-to-day.”

Nicolet concurs.

CFRC may be closing their doors for good due to changes in funding and support from the University. Celebrating 20 years last year, the CFRC provides invaluable resources for their in-home provider network including rotating educational toys, professional workshops and stipends.

UNR is looking to implement a commercial model instead by placing a corporation in its place raising concerns for industry professionals like Tammy and Nicolet.

While quality is vital, ultimately the biggest danger for child care in Reno will eventually be availability.

“We can service about 20 percent of the preschoolers in Washoe County” states Nicolet as she speaks with local leaders looking to bring in large tech companies to the area.

As the demand for child care increases, working parents like Caitlin might be priced out of daycare entirely.

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