Utah licensing requirements are more stringent for those who handle food or cut hair than they are for the people who care for children, and inadequate funding makes child care a major concern.
Cheryl Wright, chairwoman of the Board of Family Services Child Care Advisory Council told members of the Legislature's Social Services Interim Committee that "the state demands more training for those handling food, for those giving haircuts - even for those who give massages - than for those who care for young children. Many believe that anyone can care for children."During a presentation on child care problems in the state, Wright asked lawmakers to set aside a percentage of the budget for training of providers to assure quality care.
Fifty-nine percent of Utah women work, most from economic necessity. The national average is 54 percent. And Utah also has the highest percentage of children, with fewer working adults to support them, according to Mary Olsen, Division of Family Services. Nearly half of the state's 506,000 children require child care because their parents work, but only 29,000 are in licensed care. The rest receive unregulated - and sometimes substandard - care, she said.
Other speakers, representing a variety of groups and interests, said the major problem is not how the money is spent on child care, but how little money is spent.
The state provides child care subsidies for some low income families. For children under age 2, the state pays $7.95 a day. For those older than 2, the rate is $6.65. Because of the low payment, child care providers must charge public placements more or go under.
The public is charged an average of $15 a day for infants, $13 for 2-year-olds and $10.35 for those over age 4, said Clark Fowers of Tutor Time Child Care and the Utah Child Care Association. Those figures mean the state gets about a 36 percent discount "and child care does not have a 36 percent profit margin. How many contractors would build a bridge on a 40 percent discount?" he asked. "We can't afford it."
Ann LeSue, president of the Professional Family Child Care Association of Utah, said there are three issues that concern child care providers: Affordability (as in "Can we as providers afford to remain in business?) real earning power (most child care providers earn minimum wage or less), and the quality of training they can afford to utilize.
Some businesses are taking steps to provide day care for their employees, according to Betty Tatham, Governor's Day Care Advisory Council.
"The Health Department is doing well with a private provider on site," she said.
Others are examining latchkey programs to provide short after-school care sessions. Businesses are also looking at "flex time and job-sharing options," as well as flexible benefits, which allow an employee to select child care in place of another benefit option. And employers are also finding that by deducting child care costs before taxes, they save in social security benefits.
Committee members are expected to consider the child care issue when making budget decisions during the next session.