In Colorado, infant child care costs almost 10% more than the average rent.

A Colorado family with two children would, on average, spend 14% of its annual income on child care, according to a fact sheet from the White House. The Department of Health and Human Services considers child care affordable if it costs no more than 7% of a family’s income.

Ealasha Vaughner’s experience illustrates the difficulties that Colorado parents of young children face. When she first needed child care in order to go to work, she was homeless. After human services told her about the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, she had to find a child care provider who would accept it, she said. 

Colorado’s statewide CCAP provides financial support for child care to families that are homeless, employed, looking for work or enrolled in school or training and have a child under the age of 13, or 19, if the child has a disability and requires care. A family that receives CCAP takes their child to a provider who accepts it and the provider submits for reimbursement. 

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program is administered through counties, which set their own income eligibility but must serve families with an income of 185% or less of the federal poverty level and can’t serve families that have an income of over 85% of the state median income, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services website. The amount a family receives depends on its income and household size. 

Total household size includes parents and any children whom the adult caretakers are responsible for in the home, according to Christa Bruning, the communications director for Adams County. Anyone else who lives in the home, such as other relatives, are not included in the family size number. 

A family might be required to pay a parent fee to the provider depending on the family’s income, household size and number of children in care. Parents pay the parent fee directly to the provider at the beginning of each month.

Vaughner found Clayton Early Learning, which provides low or no cost care to children from birth to 5 who are Head Start-eligible and live in Denver County. Head Start is a federal grant that pays for spots for low-income families at Head Start centers. Clayton Early Learning is one of the larger delegates of the grant in Colorado, said Paula Smith, the vice president of educational services at Clayton Early Learning.

Vaughner worked as a senior recruiter and onboarding specialist for an aviation company but had to quit when the pandemic hit, as she didn’t have anyone who could care for her children while she was at work. 

At some points in Vaughner’s career, she made too much money to qualify for CCAP, so she had to pay for child care out-of-pocket, spending almost $1,200 a month for one child, but Clayton Early Learning helped her find additional assistance to pay for child care. 

While Vaughner’s children have aged out of Clayton Early Learning, she is still active in the parent ambassador program, which hosts workshops and teaches parents how to navigate the system.

“We work together so that we can build our community and make it better for all of us,” Vaughner said. 

The numbers

In 2018, a single parent with an infant in Colorado spent almost 50% of their income on a child care center and a single parent with two children spent over 86% of their income, according to a report from Child Care Aware of America, a network of child care resources and agencies.

The annual cost of infant care at a center in Colorado was over $15,600 in 2018 and over $15,800 in 2019.

A minimum wage worker in Colorado would need to work full time for 32 weeks to pay for care for one infant, according to the Economic Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit that researches impacts of economic trends and policies.

Over 64% of children under 6 in Colorado have all available parents in the workforce, according to a 2021 report by the Center for American Progress.