Child care expensive on both sides of the equation

Ursula Shoudy, director of Toddle Inn Daycare Center in Bayview, helps Kareena Lasich, 2, down a slide, while holding Thomas Simms, 8 months.  - Jennifer Conway / staff photo
Ursula Shoudy, director of Toddle Inn Daycare Center in Bayview, helps Kareena Lasich, 2, down a slide, while holding Thomas Simms, 8 months.
— image credit: Jennifer Conway / staff photo

Taking a child to daycare is not only a large expense for families, but — according to South Whidbey daycare directors — caring for and teaching young children while their parents are at work isn’t cheap for them, either.

Mully Mullally, executive director of the South Whidbey Children’s Center, has probably taken care of more South Whidbey children over the past 25 years than anyone else. While other daycare centers have come and gone, Mullally has only seen her center grow. It’s not just a day care anymore: Now, it also hosts the South Whidbey Afterschool Program for school-age students at another center near the primary and elementary schools.

Though Mullally has to deal with everything from runny noses to hyperactive kids on a daily basis, she said the hardest part of running her business is the financial aspect, particularly the lack of fair wages, benefits and retirement packages for her employees. At the Children’s Center, wages average about $13 an hour.

“It’s an underpaid profession,” Mullally said.

Mullally said most people who work in daycare centers aren’t in the profession for the money, because there simply isn’t much to be found. Her goal is to run a quality daycare with the best possible future of children in mind.

“Every child whose parents are both working deserve the best,” she said. “It’s hard when you have two parents in full-time jobs.”

If parents don’t qualify for support, they can pay around $600 a month to keep one child in full-time care at the South Whidbey Children’s Center.

When Jill Helland and Ursula Shoudy collaborated on opening the Toddle Inn Daycare Center in Bayview, their husbands worked together to transform the Helland’s three-car garage into a warm, brightly decorated space for kids. Where the large garage doors once stood, posters and artwork created by the students hang along a pastel painted wall.

Shoudy said she and her business partner know how expensive child care is for parents — at their center, families with more than one child in daycare receive a small break on tuition. The Department of Social and Health Services also pays for half of the tuition for many South Whidbey families. Shoudy said the money from DSHS helps pay the tuition for low-income families, single-parent families and families whose parents are going to school themselves.

It still can be expensive though, and having one child in child care at the Toddle Inn can be as much as $500 a month for full-time care.

Several facilities on South Whidbey also give the same tuition break, and accept DSHS payments.

Jan Alger, director of Kidz Stuff in Clinton, says while it is expensive to have children in daycare, having a child enrolled in a day care in Seattle can be so much more expensive — around $1,200 a month. The tuition at Kidz Stuff is also approximately $500 a month for one child.

“I would hate to live in Seattle and have more than one child,” she said.

Alger and her husband remodeled their home in 1999 to accommodate Jan’s desire to operate a child care facility. A separate entrance on the side of her house leads to Kidz Stuff, which she says is a space they are quickly outgrowing.

“I’d like to become a center and get funding for a bigger place,” said Alger.

Because Alger operates out of her home, she can’t call her business a daycare “center.” Even though she has an early-childhood education degree, she said it is only financial support from her husband — who works as a program manager in Seattle — makes it possible for her to afford what she loves to do.

Like many of the daycare facilities, Alger has costs of employees to account for, and food, toys, books and arts and crafts projects to name a few. She does not have more than 10 children at a time in the center, and must have at least one person working with her at all times to keep that capacity of children.

Having burnout from operating a childcare facility is common, Alger said. She said she has seen many people burnout within two to three years, but structure in her program keeps her going.

“We’ve had great successes,” said Alger.

Mullally said the cost of teacher training and education is something she strongly believes in, and that having a curriculum and identified philosophy are part of what adds up to the center’s success.

“We spend a lot of time and money to ensure those things are met,” she said. “It’s a difficult profession.”

By making a children a priority in the South Whidbey community, Mullally said they are helping the community to grow in a positive direction.

“People come out more whole when their needs are met,” said Mullally.

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