Parents seek alternatives to traditional child care
Some are turning to friends and neighbors amid changing needs
Natalie Noakes is well aware of a demand for more child care in Snowmass Village.
“We hear all the time … ‘child care, child care, child care,'” the owner of Aspen Nannies said. Her service typically provides short-term babysitting services to visiting tourists, though in 2020 she’s seen an uptick in requests for long term nanny services.
This year, Noakes decided she would be part of the solution to a purported lack of child care options in Snowmass Village. Armed with a $10,000 grant from the state of Colorado and support from the Aspen-based Kids First child care resource center, Noakes tried to open a child care center for infants and toddlers in Snowmass Base Village with local employees in mind.
“The reason we wanted to do it was for locals in Snowmass,” Noakes said. “This one was really supposed to be for the community.”
Noakes secured a space — unused conference rooms run by the Viceroy in Base Village. She had support from the state, too, with guidance on the requirements for establishing a licensed child care center.
There was just one thing missing: children to care for.
“We didn’t have enough parents sign up,” Noakes said. The lack of demand was “counterintuitive” to all the requests she got for more affordable child care in Snowmass Village and everything she knew about a need for more daytime care for children of Snowmass Village employees, she said.
“I think we were kind of shocked,” Noakes said. “We never thought the issue would be a lack of (interest).”
Noakes said she isn’t sure why the vocal demand for more child care services went silent when a viable option came on the market. Perhaps it was a lack of marketing on her part, or the limited age range of her services (the logistics of the space meant she could only take in children younger than 2), she said. Or maybe parents had just found other options, Noakes said.
Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, said that it was likely a combination of factors that led to the faltering signups. In the middle of the development process, space availability changed, making it more complicated to try to use the conference rooms as a child care space. Logistical hurdles also made it difficult for Noakes to commit to a start date, Ritter said.
And amid uncertainty this year, it’s likely that Noakes’ hypothesis was right: some parents who would have been prospective clients probably sought out other options and asked friends or neighbors to help, Ritter said.
“We’re seeing a lot of that going on right now, especially with the infants,” Ritter said.
Some parents are hesitant to bring their children into a child care center out of a concern for safety and uncertainty about whether those centers will close due to COVID-19 impacts, she said. There’s also the fact that even with a dozen or so child care centers in Aspen and Snowmass Village, there isn’t enough capacity to care for all the children in the valley.
“Especially for infants and toddlers, we do not have enough spaces,” Ritter said. “We are continuing to work on capacity and we will be doing more of that in 2021.”
Work-from-home provisions are also changing child care needs throughout the valley.
“It’s a lot easier … if you’re able to work from home, to have that baby still be with you,” Ritter said. But it’s unclear whether parents will continue to use these alternative child care models in the future, when COVID-19 and its many impacts are less of a concern.
“The question is, really, is this their preference? Or is this just their preference for right now?” Ritter said. “I don’t have that crystal ball.”
Cost is another factor: most licensed child care services in the area charge around $70-$80 per day, depending on the age group, according to Ritter.
But even the market rate for child care is too high for many parents in the valley, according to Ritter. Kids First provides financial aid for parents in need, and the state offers a child care assistance program, but some parents may still seek alternatives given the high price of child care.
“The cost can be really prohibitive,” Ritter said. “The financial barrier is very real for a lot of people.”
The proposed center in Snowmass Village would have charged between $65-$95, Noakes said. She would have needed five signups for each day of the week to successfully operate the center and pay a staff of child care providers.
“It wouldn’t have been financially viable,” she said, even if she were to run the center at cost, and even with funding from the state. “It would have been really risky.”
After months of work to get the center up and running, it never came to fruition due to, of all things, the lack of demand. So Noakes has tabled the idea for now, perhaps to return to at a later date. In the meantime, she continues to run Aspen Nannies, where babysitting rates start at $32 an hour for one child with a four-hour minimum booking and nanny placements pay child care providers an annual salary.
For those who do have a larger budget for child care, Noakes said the demand has shifted since COVID-19 began, but hasn’t necessarily decreased; she said she sees more bookings for long-term nanny placements rather than short-term babysitting assignments this year.
The increased demand for long-term services poses challenges of its own, Noakes said. “The hardest thing is finding long-term nannies … a lot of people are seasonal.”
Families visiting the Roaring Fork Valley might also be accustomed to paying a lower rate for child care, but that hourly rate may not be livable for sitters in the area, she said.
That livable wage problem is one Liz McCabe says she sees too, across multiple mountain destinations. McCabe co-owns Resort Sitters, a Vail-based babysitting referral service with babysitters in Aspen-Snowmass, Eagle County, Summit County and other resort towns.
“Times have been really tough and I see that here as well — people who used to be sitters for us have left the area,” McCabe said.
But the demand for her services hasn’t waned among a mostly tourist clientele. In fact, it’s increasing because some resorts aren’t offering short-term child care services this year due to COVID-19. (Snowmass Village falls into that category; the Treehouse in Base Village isn’t offering any non-skiing child care services for the 2020-21 season.)
McCabe emphasized that her need is for sitters. And in the gig-like economy of babysitting, it could be an additional source of income for locals in need of extra cash, whether it’s a current mom looking for flexible hours or someone in search of a second job.
“Unfortunately we turn down more business due to lack of sitters in the area,” she said. “People that live in the valley, in the area … they’re local, they want some extra work, this is an extra thing to do.”
This is the second in a multi-part series on child care in Snowmass Village and the Roaring Fork Valley. New articles will run every other week through the end of January. Parents and child care providers: share your experience by emailing Kaya Williams at email@example.com.
Broadcaster Jim Williams of KSPN and KNFO is leaving the valley after eight years of serving as the voice of Aspen, Basalt and Roaring Fork high school’s sports.