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Soaring Charleston-area child care costs more expensive than mortgage for some

Sundrops Montessori on Daniel Island. (WCIV)

Some Lowcountry parents say they're paying more for child care than their mortgage.

Averages from a study by the group Child Care Aware aren't far off from that.

"When I was pregnant with twins, I was like, 'well great I have two newborns.' How in the world am I going to do this?" asked Erin Mitchell.

Two years later, the divorced, single mother is still trying to figure out child care for her twin toddlers.

According to Child Care Aware's report, South Carolina parents can expect to spend at least one third of their income on a child care facility.

The average South Carolina parent spent $6,840 on child care in 2017, per the study.

That's less than the national average of $9,000 per year, but many parents in the Lowcountry claim they're spending much more than that on childcare.

"The cost alone was horrifying. It was going to be $200 a week per kid," Mitchell said. "I'm a divorced, single parent. I don’t have two incomes."

Instead, she uses a nanny share, meaning two other families bring their children to her West Ashley town home and watches the entire group of children.

She says now she's paying $200 per week total for both kids, at least half of what she'd pay if she sought a child care center for each of her children.

"I would much rather stay home with my kids, it’s just not an option," she said.

Gabby Lee said two of her three children are enrolled in a Mt. Pleasant child care center. She says several of the facilities she contacted had a waiting list up to two years long.

"One of the most important thing you can do is get on waiting lists," she said.

"Probably the most stressful time of our lives was looking for a childcare center," Lee added. "It affects your lifestyle greatly and unfortunately there aren’t a lot of other options in the Lowcountry."

Facilities like Sundrops Montessori on Daniel Island can cost around $1,300 per month for child care.

"Sundrops does offer a lot of financial aid every year," said the school's director, Mary Margaret McKinnon.

She says the school sets aside $150,000 a year in its budget to offer as scholarship money. She says families committed to making it work can apply for up to 25 percent off tuition.

"This is the time when children are learning to problem solve, and conflict resolution and that’s just as important to a 3, 4,and 5-year-old as learning to read and learning to write," McKinnon said. "It is so important that your child is in a good place when they’re young."

For now, Erin Mitchell's twin girls will still get individual care from their nanny share.

"It’s been great for everybody," she said. "I would do anything for them, even if it meant being poor, but fortunately with this alternative, I don’t have to do that."

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