A new daycare opening in downtown St. George will do so with a single mission: to help lift families out of poverty.
The new Stepping Stones Daycare is scheduled to open June 1 and will be hosted by SwitchPoint, the St. George-based nonprofit that manages and operates the city’s largest homeless shelter, food bank and other programs. region aimed at helping people living in poverty. The center will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will aim to help struggling parents and guardians who are paying childcare costs elsewhere.
“We need to create something that can help alleviate the persistence of families in poverty,” Carol Holloway, executive director of Switchpoint, told a packed house at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the center on Tuesday.
Kamie Blake, the care center’s program director, says it will be the only 24/7 child care center in southern Utah and one of the few operating in the state.
This daycare will be one of many businesses operated by Switchpoint, which already operates a thrift store, boutique and pet store. Hollowell said childcare is a top priority for SwitchPoint, saying childcare costs, along with high housing prices and limited transportation options, are among the main factors preventing local families to fend for themselves.
Children as young as six weeks and up to 12 years old will be able to attend. At full capacity, Stepping Stones can accommodate up to 270 children per day and has kitchen, laundry and sleeping spaces to accommodate round-the-clock operations. There are five classrooms on site , with lessons scheduled according to age.
“We’re not just babysitters,” Blake said. “We are early childhood educators and our teachers and will benefit from regular ongoing professional development to understand best practices in child development and working and interacting with children.”
Blake and Holloway say this type of facility is vital to the area, especially as the population continues to grow and more parents work in service jobs with non-standard working hours.
“How many people do you know who have to work past six in the evening?” said Holloway. “So who’s watching these kids?”
Building this facility was no easy task. It cost around $3 million to build, and the pandemic nearly killed the project, Hollowell said. Due to labor disruptions and supply chain issues, the pandemic has spiked the price of the project by nearly $1.5 million, she said.
Blake and Hollowell say Stepping Stones rates will remain affordable, arguing that expensive child care often causes parents to choose between earning less by staying home with their children or leaving their children alone. Opening a center like this can help parents be adults and kids be kids, Hollowell said.
Congress let COVID-era relief expire. Millions of children have already fallen into poverty.
Stepping Stone’s rates are cheaper than some child care options but on par with others, according to the 2021 Utah Child Care Market Rates Study by academics from around the world. University of Utah Department of Economics.
That report found that childcare costs differ according to the age of the child, with younger children being more expensive, and found that the median price of monthly childcare prices across the state ranges from $850 for infants to $580 for children over six. Although these numbers are for 2021 and inflation hit hard last year, Stepping Stone’s monthly prices hover around the median price.
The median monthly price for a two-year-old statewide was $765 in 2021, while at Stepping Stones the price is $725. The facility also charges a registration fee, which 81.5% of daycares do, but the Stepping Stones fee of $35 is lower than the statewide median of $50.
Although Stepping Stones’ rates are comparable to other daycares, the overnight services help fill a gap in the childcare market.
“Overall, very few providers reported offering care outside normal working hours,” the study found. “A relatively small proportion of those providing non-standard hours of care also reported charging higher market rates for these periods of care.”
Rates do not change at Stepping Stones depending on the time of day the services are used. Blake said she sees the center as meeting a critical need for children and families.
“We provide high-quality yet affordable child care just to bridge that gap,” Blake said.
The center is located in downtown St. George and is supported by city management. Jimmie Hughes, a member of St. George’s City Council and Switchpoint’s board of directors, praised Stepping Stones, saying 24-hour childcare isn’t a revolutionary idea, but one that can help families avoid financial problems.
“It’s not about reinventing the wheel,” Hughes said. “It’s just about providing resources to people and creating enough partnerships that we can fill those little gaps that people have that are causing homelessness.”
Hughes went on to say that St. George’s city leaders want to ensure homelessness in the city is “rare, brief and non-recurring.”
Although Stepping Stones doesn’t officially open until June, families can submit applications for their children now at switchpointchildcare.org.
Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwestern Utah. Follow on Twitter @seanhemmers34. Our work depends on subscribers, so if you want more coverage on these issues, you can subscribe here: http://www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.