Lack of child care pushes families out of Summit County
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Life in Summit County can come with many cost-of-living hurdles. For some it’s housing, but for others the leading problem is affordable and available child care. Early Childhood Options Program Manager Catherine Schaaf said Summit County’s combined waitlist for child care is more than 600 names long, and it can take years for families to earn a spot.
As a result, some families are unable to live in the county. Some are unable to move in. Others are forced to move out.
Chris Smith and Erin Kersten purchased a home in Frisco in the fall of 2020. Two years later, they’ve pushed back their expected move in date of April 15, 2022, as they wait for a spot at a day care to open for their 2- and 4 year-old children. Until then, they’re short-term renting their home.
Melissa Anselmo and Daniel Winer moved their family to Silverthorne during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. In 2021, their son was born in Vail. After an expansive search for available child care, they settled on the “expensive” option and found a nanny. After one year and a lot of lost dollars, they returned to the Front Range, deciding to rent their home to another family who’s since doubled its use as a day care.
A lack of child care keeps some homeowners from moving in
Smith and Kersten wanted to move their family to Summit County for its access to hiking, skiing and biking opportunities. Smith said they were seeking a different pace of life, which Summit County had in abundance, but they’ve been unable to move into their home because of a lack of child care.
They were living in Superior, Colorado, when they purchased their Frisco home. They had applied for day care centers in Superior as soon as Kersten was pregnant, Smith said.
“We had no issues,” Smith said.
They bought their home in September 2020 after Kersten found a fully remote job, Smith said. He said he works in sales and travels for work anyway, so a central location like Summit County works well for him.
Before moving here, Smith said they weren’t aware of the scope of Summit County’s child care shortage. They started looking at child care options in September 2021. Since then, like other parents, they haven’t found anything available, Smith said.
With both Smith and Kersten working, there’s no one home to watch the kids. Smith said they just require too much attention for two full-time employees.
Their 4-year-old child will be off to kindergarten soon. Smith said it’s possible his oldest kid will outgrow child care options by the time they can move in.
For the time being, they’re just checking their emails, Smith said, waiting for one to say they’re into the top 20 of the waitlist.
In the meantime, they’re short-term renting their home until they can move in. He said he supports more action from local government to address short-term housing like Frisco’s excise tax, but he doesn’t want the blame passed on to second-home owners. His family would love to make Frisco their permanent residence, but they simply can’t.
Some homeowners are forced out
Anselmo and Winer came to the county just as the pandemic began. She said she had been working remotely since 2017, and her husband went remote during the pandemic, so they decided to move.
They looked at homes in Summit County, and they purchased theirs in Silverthorne in early 2019 and took up residence in March, she said. As part of the Zoom boom, Anselmo said her family recognized they were “part of the problem” with Summit County’s increased housing demand, but their desire to live here was just as valid to her. They came to the county seeking the mountain life akin to her time spent living in Park County, Utah.
Anselmo said she found out she was pregnant in April. As soon as she learned the news, she immediately called to get a spot on Summit and Boulder County day care centers, she said.
She was told people eventually get off the waitlist, but the weeks started to tick by. She eventually went on countdown mode, watching the days go by and seeing her maternity leave slowly coming to an end. During those days, she said finding child care became a “gauntlet,” almost like a full-time job. She checked in on day cares regularly, but she said staff “laughed” at her chances.
When no day care slot opened, her family’s solution was to find a nanny. She said they contacted a woman and offered her the job before ever seeing her in person.
Anselmo said they paid her $20 an hour for 35 hours a week, equaling almost $3,000 a month. Anselmo said if they paid their nanny any less, she’d be worried the nanny would just go and find work elsewhere, but Anselmo said that cost simply wasn’t sustainable.
By then, their son was 5 months old, Anselmo said, and showing signs of delayed development. He was experiencing socialization challenges and developed eating delays from not being around other kids his age, she said.
Finally Anselmo said her son was offered a spot at an in-home day care in Breckenridge, but the 2.5 hours a week of driving to and from Breckenridge from Silverthorne twice each day, four days a week, also wasn’t sustainable for two working adults. Nanny share became another option, but Anselmo said she didn’t trust her dog around other children and their home couldn’t support it.
With costs mounting and no end in sight, Anselmo and Winer moved back to the Front Range in April 2022, Anselmo said. One year of hunting for child care ended with them finding a day care in Boulder, near Winer’s official office, she said. They had applied to that day care in the fall of 2020, she said, and received an offer in January 2022.
“As much as we loved Summit County and would’ve loved to stay there, it wouldn’t work,” Anselmo said, adding that she loved the community of mothers and parents in the county. “Summit County parent community is so amazing. People stepped up to help out.”
She also said other moms started setting up in-home day cares and reaching out to offer help.
On Monday, she said their son’s new day care had nearly gotten rid of his delayed development. She said she appreciated the work of her nanny, but they were not a true child care specialist.
They still own their home Silverthorne but are renting it long term to another family, she said. She and her family would consider moving back one day, when their son is older, but many things can change in that time. She wonders if the problems child care centers face today would bleed into the Summit School District, or if her family moving to the county would continue to create a burden for its already strained local resources.
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