Child care investments pay returns

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

There are an estimated 14.6 million working families with children under 6 years old in the United States. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 64 percent of mothers with children under 6 were in the labor force, as were 58 percent of mothers with infants under 1.

By one estimate, more than half of all Colorado preschoolers have a single parent or two parents working. These parents wouldn’t be able to go to work without child care. The child care industry in Colorado accounts for more than $1 billion in gross state product and nearly 19,000 jobs.

Perhaps the most important affect of quality child care, though, is the long-term savings from investing in children early on. For every $1 invested in early child care and intervention over the first 20 years of a child’s life, the government return is $7.50.

Supporting child care is also good for business. The Child Care Action Campaign estimates that U.S. companies lose $3 billion annually as a result of child care related absences. Research conducted by the Early Care and Learning  Council found that 85 percent of employers report providing child care services improved employee recruitment and two-thirds reported reduced turnover. Employers surveyed also reported that child care services decrease employee absences by 20 percent to 30 percent.

Patagonia is a leader in supporting employees. For 33 years, Patagonia has operated an onsite child development center. Rose Marcario, chief executive officer of the company, said, “Employees, in turn, give more to the company because it acts as a partner in life, not an obstacle.” As an employer, Patagonia knows if it wants to recruit and retain talented employees, the company must address the child development and parenting needs of a changing workforce.

This investment has paid off. In the past five years, Patagonia has seen 100 percent of mothers return to work after maternity leave. The turnover rate for parents with children in the child care center runs 25 percent less than for their general employee population. Patagonia estimates it recovers 91 percent of calculable costs annually for operating a child development center. Patagonia isn’t alone in realizing cost savings from this model. JPMorgan Chase estimated a return of 115 percent for its child care program.

Child care also constitutes a vital part of our local economy, although it’s not feasible for many businesses to offer onsite child care. There are still ways, though, for employers to support quality, affordable child care for their employees in Mesa County.

Resources and referral: Finding long-term child care is often a stressful process for working parents. Providing resources for locating quality care is an easy way for employers to support their employees. Western Colorado 211 ( offers referrals to licensed child care providers as well as information on how to identify quality child care. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program is an income-based, eligibility program that provides subsidies to low-income families for the cost of child care. For more information, contact the Mesa County Workforce Center at 248-2735 or visit

Flexible schedules: Allowing parents to shift their schedules around school dropoff and pickup schedules is a low-cost or no-cost way to help limit child care costs for families. In a cost of care survey, parents reported spending nearly $200 a week for after school care. Simply shifting work schedules could save families thousands of dollars a year.

Dependent Care Spending Assistance Plan: Money is set aside from an employee’s gross salary to a nontaxable spending account to pay for child care. An advantage to this plan is that neither employees nor employers pay taxes on the amount of salary reduced for child care.

Flexible Spending Accounts: FSAs allow employees to set aside pre-tax dollars for work-related child care expenses. These expenses include not only child care, but also before and after school care, preschool and summer day camps. FSAs can help families save up to $2,000 a year on child care expenses.

Child care subsidies: Did you know that in most states, annual child care costs are more than college tuition? Employers are more likely to offer scholarship or tuition assistance to employees. But offering a child care subsidy is a great incentive for young working families because child care often constitutes their largest household expense. employers can do this by contributing a percentage of the total cost of care, a flat amount or an amount determined using a sliding scale based on family income.

For more resources on how to support child care in your workplace, check out the early childhood development toolkit for employers available at

Information also is available from the Early Care & Learning Council at as well as from the website at