How to afford child care in the Madison area

How to afford child care in the Madison area

Finding child care is one of the biggest burdens on a new parent, but paying for it puts many families over the edge financially.

Jessica Bowden knows firsthand how difficult it is to find child care in the Madison area. She had to start looking for care as soon as she was pregnant. Jessica and her husband were on waiting lists all across town, but finding a place for her little Milo around 2.5 years ago was just the start.

“There were certainly some programs that I really wanted to get him into, but looking at the costs I just really didn’t know how we could swing that,” Bowden said.

In some cases, it would cost the couple $300-350 a week, and that’s only with one kid. It took them more than a year before they finally got Milo into an in-home day care.

“It was more than I spent for a year at college myself,” she added. “You’re setting that stage for their whole life, so finding that quality care was a must for me.”

Jody Bartnick, Executive Director of Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C), calls it a child care crisis. She says parents can’t afford to pay, and teachers can’t afford to stay.

Bartnick says Madison has a reputation for having high quality child care which is a bonus, but the cost of childcare keeps rising while the need for more licensed childcare providers grows.

“It’s a super critical job,” Bartnick explained. “We know that the brain develops most rapidly within the first 100 days of life, so the importance of this fundamental learning in the early years is so critical to building the successes early on.”

Bartnick says the average starting wage for a childcare worker is around $13 per hour, but paying them more will only make it harder for parents to access care. That’s where 4-C hopes to help.

“We really want to make sure that all parents can access that high quality care, particularly low-income families,” Bartnick added. “We often think about advocating for higher wages for the early childcare profession and thinking about affordable child care costs.”

The City of Madison has an accreditation system and the state also helps fund childcare programs, but Bartnick tells me much more needs to be done.

“Research shows that if we invest in these programs now, we’ll pay less in our criminal justice system, we’ll help move people out of poverty, and the social benefits will pay off,” said Bartnick. “It’s just kind of getting people on board or recognizing education starting at birth.”

Bartnick says businesses need to focus more on helping out parents with more flexibility as well.

“If you have a parent that can stay home with their children, that’s a huge benefit, so not only can they stay home with their kids and be a part of those early years with them, they can also take care of a few others kids and raise some more money,” Bartnick added.

In any case, 4-C is there to help answer questions for concerned parents in the eight counties surrounding Madison and point them in the right direction. It’s something the Bowden’s applaud after going through the lengthy process of finding their son a place they were comfortable with.

“It’s so nice to be able to bring him to a place where I know he’s having fun, he’s safe, he’s learning and I can go to work and focus on what I’m doing,” Bowden added. “It’s your baby. This is most precious thing in your life that you love more than anything else, more than life itself.”

Jessica recommends new parents aim high and go from there. She says you can also look into the “Wisconsin Shares” program where you may even qualify for assistance.

We hope to keep this conversation going about prices in Madison. News 3 Now wants to know what kind of affordability questions you have, or what you’re experiencing. Let Josh Spreiter know by emailing him or reaching out to him on his Facebook page.

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