SWFL parents learn to manage despite crippling child care costs

The cost of child care is taking a toll on families all across Southwest Florida and the nation, but it does not only affect those with children.

Moms Kaylee Polich and Megan Johnson don’t know each other, but they share the same problems: how to take care of their kids and how to pay for it.

“You get up every morning, you don’t want to get up. You wake them up, they don’t want to get up,” Polich said. “But they just keep you going.”

Polich splits custody of her two kids, Jovie, 1, and Jace, 4, with her ex-husband.

“I didn’t have a choice. I wanted a better life for me, I wanted a better life for my kids,” Polich said. “And I just had to do what I had to do.”

So she has to work. But before her new boyfriend stepped in to help, being a single mom on a waitress’s salary made life nearly impossible.

“Previously daycare was out of the question,” Polich said. “When I was living by myself I could barely afford to feed myself, but I made sure my kids had everything that they needed.”

WINK News called more than 50 child care centers all over Southwest Florida to compare prices. We found the cost to take care of one infant ran between $150-$240 a week. That means for one year, some parents are spending more than $12,000 on child care alone, without taking into account registration or enrollment fees. To put it into perspective, the cost of a year’s tuition to Florida Gulf Coast University is $6118.

The high costs of child care left Megan Johnson and her husband Evan with a decision to make.

“It just became impossible to keep up with the financial responsibility of our son, and our soon to be daughter and continue to work full time,” Megan Johnson said.

Megan just quit the commission-based retail job she loved, because staying at home actually saves them money in the long-run.

“It definitely makes it more of a challenge,” Johnson said. “You have to make unconventional ways to make ends meet.”

It is unconventional because after spending the day taking care of two-and-a-half-year-old Caleb, Johnson still stays up to drive for Uber at 6 months pregnant.

“So just to kind of supplement,” Johnson said, “a little bit of cash daily.”

Parents like her pay the price.

2018 study by Child Care Aware of America shows working U.S. families without access to affordable child care lose roughly $30 billion in wages combined every year.

It is not much better for their employers, either. U.S. businesses lose about $4.5 billion every year when parents have to leave or skip work because of unreliable child care.

“It is a little scary,” Johnson said. “But you kind of can’t think about it, you just have to go day by day.”

Dr. Elizabeth Elliot, FGCU professor and former family resource center director, said when parents have to work child care can have a highly positive impact on kids, developing their basic social skills, their physical development, their social emotional development, etc.

But she said the high costs leave some parents stuck.

“I know that many young families look at that, and say, ‘is it cost-effective for one of the two of us to work, or is it cost-effective to stay at home?’” Elliot said.

While there are government programs in Florida that can help with costs, space and funds are limited. Elliot said more government subsidies could be one solution. Child care advocates are looking for ways to increase government funding, scholarships, grants and tax credits. They say a simpler financial aid application process would help more families gain access to funding that is already available.

“If we want to have a qualified workforce of people working,” Elliot explained. “They need to feel comfortable that their children are being taken care of.”

Parents looking for help can reach out to the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida for information on government programs or financial aid.

Take the survey

WINK News created a survey to gauge how families in Southwest Florida are dealing with child care costs.

Of the more than 325 responses:

· 79% were two-parent households

· 85% spend $501 or more on child care every month

· 88% say child care is not affordable

· 80% say it has impacted family planning (i.e. when to have kids, etc.)

· 82% say they’ve experienced financial strain due to child care expenses

· 84% say they’ve had to give things up in order to pay for child care

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