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As families struggle, lawmakers review Wyoming’s child care crunch

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Casey Sedlack and Tyler Sorch don't have childcare for their two youngest children, so they often help with ranch work. Here, Charlie and Tillie take a break on a branding day. (Courtesy photo)
Katie Klingsporn with WyoFile, via the Wyoming News Exchange


Lack of care facilities and early childhood ed programs force parents into tough decisions. Two legislative committees are tackling the issues this summer.

CROWHEART—Before hosting a meeting in the kitchen of her family’s ranch, Casey Sedlack switched on a Disney movie for her two youngest children, ages 3 and 5.

She wishes this scenario was uncommon. But with a ranch to run and private consulting work to do, she said, turning to cartoons for child care is often a must.

“I do some work, and I clean and I do other stuff, and I get my digital babysitter out,” Sedlack said, describing a typical day.

While Sedlack’s oldest son is in elementary school, she and her husband don’t have child care for their youngest two. It’s a scenario faced by many families in the upper Wind River basin, especially following the sudden closure in March of Dubois’ only daycare for children ages 0-5.

The issue isn’t isolated to this rural region. Families in huge swaths of the state struggle to find and afford child care. Wyoming is estimated to have a “potential child care gap” of 27.6%, according to a 2022 Bipartisan Policy Center assessment. That number reflects the number of children who potentially need care but whose families cannot reasonably access it — some 5,393 kids.

It’s a common story around the country: Child care operators struggle to make ends meet with strict license regulations and workforce challenges. Parents struggle to find an available spot for their kids. When they can’t, some are forced to balance work and child care, which makes full-time work tough. Even if parents or guardians secure a spot, they sometimes opt to stay out of the workforce because they can’t afford tuition.

This summer, two legislative committees are tackling the related issues of child care access and early childhood education, which could spawn policy changes aimed at helping more families to get their kids into preschool or daycare.

But policy work moves slowly, and for families like the Sedlacks, it’s unlikely changes will happen in the near-enough future to make a meaningful difference.

For the time being, they survive as they can.

Which is why, with her husband out working, Sedlack set  a platter of scones on her kitchen table for her meeting as the strains of “Moana” played in the next room.

Not new

In late 2019, Wyoming won a $2 million federal grant to conduct a needs assessment and develop a strategic plan for the state’s early childhood education and care landscape. The 2020 assessment found the annual cost of child care was $887 per month for an infant and $751 per month for a 4 year old.

“Infant care for one child would take up 14.9% of a median family’s income in Wyoming, significantly more than the US-HHS’ affordability guideline of 7%,” the assessment found. “At least 38% of children age 5 and under are in families that cannot afford child care, or must sacrifice other basic needs to do so.”

When the assessment was updated in 2023, the gist was the same.

“Parents continue to face many barriers in accessing child care” — including cost, availability, schedules, staff turnover, safety record and adult-to-child ratios, an update memo states.

Wyoming’s first-ever statewide early childhood strategic plan, which came in 2021, laid a blueprint for creating an informational hub for parents, connecting families with support services and increasing affordability. Several of its initiatives have been implemented; for example, the Department of Family Services adjusted child care assistance rates and rolled out pilot programs to increase infant care access.

That plan was also updated in 2023. The update stressed the need to build a quality early childhood education workforce with incentives, among other recommendations.

On the policy side, movement has been incremental, including two bills passed this spring. House Bill 166 created educational savings accounts that allow income-qualified families to access money for educational expenses for kids as young as 4. House Bill 126 changes the definition of home daycares with fewer than 10 kids to relieve operator burden.

Now, two committees are taking the issue up over the interim — when committees meet during the legislative off-season to draft legislation. Committee bills developed during the interim traditionally have a better chance of becoming law than legislation developed and proposed by individual lawmakers.

The No. 1 interim priority for the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee is maternity healthcare and child care issues. The panel will “review child care access issues and availability and will consider legislation to increase child care facilities throughout the state,” according to its priority list. The Education Committee’s top priority, meanwhile, is early childhood education.

Triage situation

When Sedlack became a mom, she was initially resistant to child care. Then she put her sons into part-time daycare.

“And then once I started doing it, I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Three hours, three times a week is a really big deal,’” she said. It helped her start a business and gave her space she didn’t even realize she needed, she said.

When the pandemic hit, the daycare temporarily closed, and she brought the boys home again. Later in 2020, she started looking for a full-time nanny, but that turned out to be a tough task in her rural community. She kept hitting dead ends.

Finally, after posting on Cool Jobs, she found a woman who agreed to move from out of state to the ranch for a year. The nanny arrived in spring 2021, four months after Sedlack gave birth to her third child, and she was an absolute lifesaver.

“I call her Mary Poppins,” Sedlack said.

After the nanny left, Sedlack and her husband went back to piecing it together. Their oldest son started school in Crowheart, and they got their middle son into a pre-K program in Dubois — roughly 30 miles away — but that entailed hours of child shuttling per day. They decided to keep the two youngest at home and juggle care. What it looks like for Sedlack, she said, is slipping work into any pocket of time she can.

At some point, Sedlack joined the Wyoming Community Foundation local board in Dubois, along with her friend Sara Domek — who is pregnant with her second child.

An organizational leader queried the board at a meeting about a pressing issue for the community. “And unanimously, all of the young people in the room were like: ‘CHILD CARE!’” Sedlack said.

The board took it on, initially addressing it as a long-term project. Then in March, the daycare closed unexpectedly. And it swiftly shifted to a triage situation, Sedlack and Domek said.

“It affected a lot of people in many ways,” Domek said. Most urgent were a handful of school district employees, who had to act fast to figure out care for their kids while they worked.

Easing barriers

Domek is feeling the strain on her own family. She and her husband were planning to enroll their toddler son in the daycare this summer.

After he was born in 2020, she put him on the daycare waitlist, but it was a year and a half before a spot opened. In the meantime, her mother drove from Cora on a near-weekly basis to help out. Then one winter day, her mother got into a bad accident on Togwotee Pass.

“That was kind of the end” of that arrangement. Domek and her husband, who both work for nonprofits, juggled care from home, with Domek driving to Pinedale with the baby for days at a time so her mom could help. A retired friend then stepped in to babysit before a daycare spot opened and things stabilized.

“​​And now we’re going back to this very scattershot thing,” Domek said.

She has spent hours trying to piece together a summer care schedule for her son, cobbling together a patchwork schedule between two sitters herself and her husband. “And I think that’s what most people are doing again.”

Then, of course, the search will begin anew when her second child arrives.

When the daycare closed, an early idea to come out of the Wyoming Community Foundation’s local board was a nanny share. Members were sorely disappointed, however, to discover that Wyoming laws prohibit a nanny from caring for several unrelated children.

A related effort, meanwhile, built a non-profit child care organization called Little Lambs. The operation obtained its final approval last week. It has also signed a lease on a location and posted positions. The hope is to open by August, but staffing presents perhaps the most stubborn challenge of all.

“If we don’t find the people to do this job, we’re going to be in the same place,” Domek said.

The workforce piece, Sedlack said, seems to be the uniting factor everywhere. “The root of the problem is we don’t have the workforce,” she said. “This is not just our community — this is widespread.”


“The biggest thing that we hear across providers is, ‘this is a workforce issue,’” Roxanne O’Connor with Wyoming Department of Family Services told the Labor committee during an April interim meeting.

Wyoming’s child care gap has actually improved since 2020, O’Connor said. But “there are still communities that struggle to have access to child care, families struggle to have access to child care, and then that becomes an economic issue.”

Wyoming Business Council CEO Josh Dorrell echoed that child care helps free people up to work.

“We know that we’re working hard to develop resilient communities, and one of the keys to that is to have a thriving business community,” Dorrell told the committee. “To have that, you have to have a workforce.”

He urged lawmakers, however, to proceed deliberately.

“We actually think that it’s a business problem that could be solved with business programs, and the private businesses will ultimately solve this with maybe some help from us as we further understand it,” Dorrell said. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that we’re looking at it from more of a surgical perspective, not a big program that runs and maybe doesn’t solve a problem.”

Sedlack also testified during that meeting about the crisis in Dubois. In response, the committee voted to draft a bill to allow nannies to serve up to five families at a time.

The committee will consider the bill draft at its next meeting, which is scheduled for June 20-21 in Pinedale. The committee also asked to learn more about the factors that prompted centers to close and how Wyoming’s staffing ratios stack up.

Strategies used by other states to increase the availability of child care facilities include increasing compensation and benefits to child care workers, partnering with workplaces to provide employee child care services and providing regulatory support for in-home family child care providers, according to legislative staff.

The Education Committee, meanwhile, will hold its first interim early childhood education discussion when it meets Wednesday in Laramie.


Teton County Commissioner and mother of three Natalia Macker is hopeful the needle moves. After experiencing the challenges firsthand, Macker became an advocate for supporting child care through her political work. That includes initiatives like the county purchasing commercial space and leasing it at reduced rates to providers.

People recognize the value of community-funded K-12 public school, Macker said. “We haven’t gotten to the place where we’re placing that same importance on early [0-5] years.”

The collective understanding seems to be growing, she said, but the state still has a way to go. Macker is optimistic about “this momentum, and with the way that we’re talking about child care in a few places at the state level.”

But, she said, “there isn’t a kind of plug-in, universal answer.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

This story was posted on June 10, 2024.

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