It's a problem throughout the state. Shortages: space, affordable rates, employees and state assistance

Many Delawareans are struggling to find affordable quality child care, while some child care providers are having difficulty attracting and keeping quality employees due to low pay.

Lindsay Cannon owns Little Einsteins in Georgetown and Millsboro. She wishes she could pay her employees more, but that would require charging customers more.

“I would have to have my rates at like $200 a week per kid,” she said. “And people around here just can’t pay that.”

There are 1,070 child care workers in the state at an average salary of $22,300, according to nonprofit Child Care Aware of America.

Melissa Giddens, owner of The Pumpkin Patch Early Learning Center in Dover, said, “I think a lot of people are shying away from [working in] child care because we can’t pay what we need to pay, and it’s hard to keep good people.”

Waiting lists and high costs

Taylor Krall lives in Milford with her husband and two children. They’re struggling to find and afford child care.

“Initially it was [hard] finding child care, period, for an infant. Once he turned one we found a place in Harrington. It was further than we would have liked, living in Milford,” she said. “The [providers] … don’t even respond to you or return voicemails half the time because they’re so backlogged.”

Child Care Aware reports there are 55,000-plus pre-kindergarten children under age four in Delaware, with about 50,000 available child care slots.

Having a second child meant Krall and her husband would pay about $1,400 a month in child care, and that just wasn’t an option.

“[I] can’t afford not to work, so our terrible solution is that I work nights and my husband days,” she said. “I nap when the kids nap and do the child handoff when [my husband] comes in the door so that I can sleep.”

‘Purchase of care’ problem

Delaware does provide assistance, through “purchase of care.” It’s available to parents with a gross income less than or equal to 185% of the federal poverty level. This year, a single parent of one child making less than $2,609 a month would qualify for some assistance. A two-parent home with one child would qualify with income less than $3,289 a month.

As of 2019, about 15,000 children received purchase of care assistance.

“We make too much money for that or any other state benefits,” Krall said. “But not enough to be comfortable affording childcare.”

Kaitlin Outten and her husband live in Dover with their three children. They qualified for purchase of care assistance but it still cost them about $800 a month in co-pays – for just one child. Kaitlin’s salary was going entirely to daycare.

“We ended up pulling him out,” she said. “My husband and I work opposite schedules and my hours are only at 30-ish to make sure it doesn't interfere with my husband's job.”

The amount the state pays providers serving purchase of care families is much less than market price. Providers are paid based on the 75th percentile of market prices, and 59 percent of that, on average.

The state raised the payment last year for the first time since 2011, though providers still say it’s not enough. In addition, New Castle County providers are paid more than those in Kent and Sussex because the market rate was found to be higher there.

For example, a provider in New Castle County gets $150 a week from purchase of care assistance for a three-year-old client. In Kent and Sussex, it is $117. They can get up to $415 and $250 a week, respectively, from cash-paying parents, according to the Delaware 2018 Child Care Rate Study. That amounts to a payment from the state of 36% in the north and 47% in the southern two counties.

Providers can refuse purchase of care clients, but Giddens from The Pumpkin Patch says it’s not that simple.

“If a lot of children in your area are POC kids, how do you not take it when it’s 60, 70% of your clientele?” she said.

Giddens and others can’t afford to pay employees more with the low purchase of care payment, and “it goes back to what the state pays providers,” she said.