Child-care report outlines challenges, gains across Utah

Child-care challenges abound across the state, especially in rural areas, according to a new report.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

According to a new report released Tuesday, there is insufficient licensed child care to meet the needs of working families in Utah.

Licensed child care program capacity is only sufficient to serve about 36% of all children under six whose parents are working, according to Voices for Utah Children’s “Mapping Care for Kids: A County-Level Look at Utah’s Crisis in Licensed Child Care.”

Shortages face parents in every county statewide, with families in rural counties struggling most. The report also shows how effective federal stabilization funding has been for Utah’s child care system, which has grown licensed child care capacity by 31% since 2020.

This report aims to provide policymakers and the public with a better understanding of the need for child care reform in Utah. It highlights a demand for accessible, affordable, and high-quality child care for all working families, according to the group. 

The report contains statewide data and county-level data, supplemented by quotes from parents and child care providers, showing that the high cost of child care is making it even less accessible to low- and middle-income families. On average, the annual cost of care for two children under the age of six (one infant/toddler, one preschool-aged child) for a Utah family will cost 17% of a family’s income. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines  “affordable child care” as care that costs no more than 7% of a family’s income. 

“We just had our second child and she will be starting daycare in October. We will be paying just under $30,000/year for two kids at school. It is reaching the point of being unaffordable and allows for less flexibility. I was hoping to be able to cut down my work schedule as to be able to hang out with my kids one day a week, however, with the rate increase and having to pay five days/week no matter what for infant care, it doesn’t make sense for me.” – Marissa Moran, parent in Holladay

“As a provider, I struggle to raise our rates because I care about the families I serve. I know that most providers agree. We never want to add additional burdens to anyone. However, if we want to remain open to support families, we have to.” – Katie Martinez, director of Kid’s First Center in Layton

According to the report’s findings, rural families struggle most with child care accessibility and affordability. Of Utah’s 29 counties, the 16 counties with the lowest rates of child care access are rural. Cost varies little between rural and urban counties, but on average household median incomes are lower in rural areas. In Grand County, with the state’s lowest median annual income at $42,654, the cost of care for a family of four would comprise about 41% of a family’s income. 

The report also brings to light the challenges faced by child care providers, who often work for low wages and limited benefits. The median hourly wage for child care professionals in Utah is $12.87 per hour.

“Providers often make long-term sacrifices. I have a lot of health stuff that needs to be addressed and is building up. But without insurance and with the stabilization grants going away to help cover teacher time, I feel stuck and have to stick to band-aid solutions. And I need to be investing in retirement.” – Kristy DeGraaf, Owner of The Learning Tree in Cedar City

“Mapping Care for Kids” also gives some reasons to be hopeful about Utah’s child care system. With public investment and state implementation, Utah’s child care system has grown by 31% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal funding streams, totaling nearly $600 million, have contributed to an increase in licensed child care capacity, showing that public investment has a direct, positive impact on child care accessibility.

“Because the state stepped in, I was able to give my employees a very significant raise, do significant improvements to the center, and not raise tuitions for the past two and a half years or so.” – Michael Wade, owner of First Steps in Salt Lake City

But Oct. 1, child care stabilization grants were reduced by 75% and will end by spring 2024. According to the Century Foundation, Utah is one of six states that could see half or more of all licensed child care programs statewide close with the end of the stabilization grants unless new funding is committed to extending the program. 

“I closed my daycare June 2023. I decided it would be better to find a new career as the daycare would no longer be sustainable for my family’s income and the inconvenience of the lifestyle made it seem better to look for other career options.” – Lisa Saunders, former provider in North Logan

“Mapping Care for Kids” calls for a commitment to public investment in child care, emphasizing the need to bridge the financial gap between families and the actual cost of care. The report advocates for measures to help parents afford the care they want and supports the critical work of child care providers by proposing state funding of Child Care Stabilization Grants, wage supplement programs, and other beneficial reforms.

For more information on efforts to improve Utah’s child care system or learn about the child care advocacy network, visit and

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