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Series: Disappearing Daycare

Jan 29, 2024 11:47AM ● By Martin Davis and Adele Uphaus
Editor’s Note: This first in a multipart series exploring the challenges parents with young children are facing finding childcare in our community. Today, you’ll meet one family and get a sense of the challenges before them.

If you are a childcare provider, or a parent struggling with childcare costs, we'd like to hear from you.  Please contact Leigh Anne Van Doren, [email protected]

by Martin Davis and Adele Uphaus 

Valerie Irizarry and her husband seem to have everything a couple needs to be successful. Valerie holds a bachelor’s degree, and her spouse holds an M.B.A. Such degrees are supposed to hold the keys to financial success.  

But these keys haven’t been enough to turn the lock for the Irizarrys. When Valerie was offered a full-time position earlier this year, she had to turn it down because she couldn’t afford childcare.  

“Afterschool care for my three (of four) kids would cost more than my weekly salary,” she told the Advance.  

Cost wasn’t the only problem she faced.  

Valerie’s family lives in southern Stafford County, and she said that with four children, there was “just one private childcare facility in my specific area that could work with me.” 

The Irizarry’s tale isn’t just one of poor luck. A report released in October by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) titled “Virginia’s Self-Sufficiency Programs and the Availability and Affordability of Child Care” found that childcare is beyond the reach of most families with younger children in the Old Dominion State. 

Child care is unaffordable for most Virginia families with younger children and some Virginia families with school-age children. The costs of infant and toddler care exceed 7 percent of household income for more than 80 percent of Virginia families, and the cost of preschool exceeds 7 percent of household income for 74 percent of Virginia families.  

It Starts with Cost  

Childcare Aware of Virginia tracks costs across the Commonwealth, and the numbers of eye-popping. 

Stafford County has the highest averages in our area. Parents looking to place an infant (up to 16 months) in a center will pay an average of $232 a week. Per year, that comes to a little more than $12,000. The minimum a family will pay according to CCAoVA is $180. That still works out to over $9,300 per year. 

Though Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg are less expensive, “affordable” isn’t a word that many families would use to describe their costs. The average cost for an infant at a center in both locales is $218 a week, or about $11,300 annually.  

Families can do better if they’re fortunate enough to find family childcare. However, in Stafford the average cost is still $197 a week. Fredericksburg is $162, and Spotsylvania is $125. 

Though costs decrease as children age, parents who must depend upon childcare to work are looking at these costs for a minimum of five years.  

Irizarry has come to appreciate that the struggles she is facing are widespread. She points to online sites like MOM Squad of Fredericksburg, where people go to seek advice, help, and tips for navigating the childcare waters. 

“The desperation comes through in a lot of the posts,” she tells the Advance. 

A scan of local online parenting sites found several examples of the desperation that Irizarry is referencing. 

One parent wrote that the cost of daycare is just the start: 

… daycare is more than what a lot of people make! … the amount you’re paying for gas and food if your daycare/babysitter does not cover food can easily run you $100 a week … on top of what you’re paying for childcare. 

Even for those fortunate enough to have daycare, the problems don’t end. 

A poll done by Virginia Promise Partnership found that: 

… nearly half (48%) of parents said their job is currently being negatively impacted by a lack of access to child care, resulting in having to take time off of work (23%), reduce or change hours (18%), or quit their job (11%). These results align with an August 2022 employer survey conducted by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Seventy-six percent of employers surveyed stated that childcare availability impacted employee recruitment and retention, and 78 percent reported that employees frequently or occasionally miss work due to childcare issues.  

Just the start 

Though costs are keeping families who need access to childcare from accessing it, that’s just one level difficulty we face trying to address this problem. 

In our next report, we will focus on the cost to train and staff a childcare center in this area, and talk about the salaries these employees make.  

Future reports will examine government efforts to address this issue, the role of nonprofits and faith communities in helping to fill the gap, and the impact this shortage is having on both families and their children. We’ll also explore some possible solutions. 


Intern Charlie Li assisted with this report. 


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