How to find childcare in Denver

Having trouble finding someone to care for your children in Denver? Many Denver parents we’ve spoken to are and are likely facing the same or similar struggles as you.

The process tests—and sometimes destroys—the most enthusiastic parents, as Denverite’s ongoing series on childcare has shown. The industry charges more than many families can afford, childcare centers underpay workers, and children suffer the consequences. As policymakers try to make some fixes to Colorado’s child care crisis and conversations about universal pre-K continue at the federal level, Denver parents need help now.

Few emerge from the search for childcare unscathed from stress. But families, providers, and advocates are figuring it out—even if it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.

Over the past few weeks, parents have shared some best practices and tips you can use to earn money to survive while keeping another human (or several) alive.

Here’s what we learned.

A bumblebee pattern on the floor in Shaniq Wells' before and after school childcare classroom at Trevista at Horace Mann in Sunnyside.  April 8, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

If you’re thinking about having children, it’s never too early to consider who will take care of them when you’re at work.

Denver does not have a public option for infant care and early childhood care for most families. This means that parents have to try their luck in the private sector and raise the finance to pay for it – and that can cost a lot of money.

According to the Bell Policy Center, typical families pay between 16% and 27% of their annual income on child care costs.

Some families rely on child care centers with long waiting lists and fees that often rival in-state college tuition. While centers are tried-and-true options, many have closed and scaled back services during the pandemic and are often forced to close during COVID outbreaks, disrupting parents’ work schedules.

Families who can afford it — and some who can’t — hire expensive babysitters. Some offer live-in services and others work set hours and then go home. Many parents who can’t afford their own babysitter or want to see their kids socialize join other families for budget-friendly-but-not-so-friendly babysitting shares.

Other families go the route of licensed home child care, where educators often offer more affordable services than centers or babysitters. Sometimes these places also have shorter waiting lists.

If all else fails, if you’re this lucky, you can rely on family, friends or neighbors. This is a great solution if there are people you trust and one that most Coloradans use.

And if that doesn’t work, you might have to quit your job or work from home with a cranky baby until you figure something out.

Creative Learning Preschool in west Aurora, just on the border of Denver's Central Park neighborhood.  March 22, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

So let’s say you want to send your child to a childcare center. How much does it cost and how do families pay for it?

For starters, make sure you have enough for childcare center down payments. Some parents we spoke to spent as much as $500 on application fees alone and still struggled to find a place.

And it won’t hurt to make sure you also have money to pay for tuition, which at some centers can cost more than $2,000 a month and almost always costs more than $1,000.

“The cost is quite high,” Elsa Holguín, head of the Denver Preschool Program, told Denverite. “The average in Denver is $14,000 a year. And that’s for kindergarten. As you go to the younger kids, it gets even more expensive.”

Because child care centers have closed more often under COVID-19 regulations, it’s also wise to save a little extra money for back-up care and last-minute babysitters.

Accountant Sylvia Johnston, who has one son, said she spent $30,000 a year between her childcare center and babysitters.

There are a few options for public funding.

Families with older children can connect with the Denver Preschool Program, which offers tuition credits to all four-year-olds and some three-year-olds. Starting in the fall of 2023, the state plans to provide 10 free hours of pre-K to all four-year-olds.

Eligible families can also get support for younger children through Denver Great Kids Head Start and Colorado Child Care Assistance funding through the Colorado Department of Human Services. Those receiving food and medical assistance through Colorado Works should consult with their caseworkers about eligibility for child care-specific funding.

But many people – even those struggling to pay for Denver’s high cost of living – may not qualify and will have to pay the cost themselves. Parents we spoke to quit their jobs for higher-paying jobs, borrowed money from family and friends, and stopped saving for retirement to pay for care.

Bodhi Johnston is ready to roll as his mother, Sylvia, prepares to take him out for the day.  March 26, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Okay… so you think you can afford it. How do you find a child care center?

Start researching. Some parents search Google. Others consult neighborhood groups on Facebook, Nextdoor and other social media sites, and look for online reviews. People even chat with other parents at the playground.

Perhaps the most helpful resource is Colorado Shines, which rates childcare centers and offers other information for expectant and new parents. You can search for centers by distance from your work or home address. And you can even get one-on-one help with a child care center navigator by calling 1-877-338-CARE (2273), Mon-Fri, 8am to 5pm or by live online chat.

You can also call 211 to connect with United Way, which offers a free child care resource and referral service.

Waiting lists for childcare centers sometimes stretch for two years or more. Some families line up even before they get pregnant, making finding a place very competitive – even for people who think they plan early.

With all the uncertainty of pregnancy and adoption, paying to get on a waiting list before having a child can be heartbreaking if things don’t work out as planned. But these days, it’s a risk that might be worth taking.

Shaniq Wells in her before and after school classroom at Trevista at Horace Mann in Sunnyside.  April 8, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Let’s say you want to hire a babysitter. now what?

According to Colorado Nanny, a placement service, most CPR-certified and qualified nannies are paid between $24 and $26 an hour. Highly skilled nannies with years of experience in early childhood education can cost up to $30 an hour.

At $24 an hour, full-time nannies earn $49,920 a year — or 53% of the annual earnings of a household earning the area’s median income of $94,320 for a family of three.

There are a number of nanny placement services, including Colorado Nanny, the national A Perfect Fit and ABC Nannies and Domestics. For families looking for emergency childcare, there are companies like There, There Backup Care and Nanny Poppinz.

When hiring babysitters outside of official agencies, families generally do their own background checks and ensure that the people they hire are CPR certified and have some childcare experience and references.

Sylvia and Bodhi Johnston play in a ball pit in Bodhi's room.  March 26, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Parents who are new in town or just not well connected often reach out on social media to meet other families and potential childcare providers.

One of the most active groups we found is the nearly 13,000-member Highlands/Denver Childcare Facebook group, where childcare providers post their services and rates and families connect for babysitters and announce what services they need.

Other recommended groups for childcare resources and community support include Sloans Lake and Highlands Mamas, Denver Mommas, Denver Moms, and Childcare Connect.

Many parents find out because of generous bosses.

While not everyone can work from home or have flexible schedules, many who can tell Denverite that they got through the first years of their children’s lives at the mercy of their employers.

Some parents worked early mornings, late nights and weekends. Others took paid – and sometimes unpaid – leave. In some cases, parents’ companies offered unlimited time off.

With many employers struggling to hire and retain workers, companies have become more accommodating to parents. Some parents have used their child’s earliest years to rethink their careers. And if a boss is unforgiving towards new parents, things will only get worse as the child gets older. Perhaps, in that case, it’s a sign that it’s time to find a new job that will accommodate your growing family.

A bit of good news… sort of…

You’re going to figure it out. And it’s good training. Free preschool is coming and it sounds pretty good for the family budget.

But that’s about the time you realize that summer camps, before- and after-school programs, and other extracurriculars start, and you might be stuck on waiting lists and paying high fees again.

Luckily, though, by then you’ll be an old pro at navigating Denver’s crazy systems, and your kid(s) might have the language skills and manners to thank you.

If you have resources we’re missing or stories you’d like to share, drop us a note at

Multi-year waiting lists, tuition as expensive as a second mortgage: Denver is in a child care crisis

Denver’s broken child care system forced this single mom to declare bankruptcy

This early childhood educator could not afford childcare for her six-year-old. Why continue teaching?

Lawmakers are proposing a solution to Colorado’s child care shortage

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