Even if working parents want to send their children to a licensed child care provider, many don’t have that choice, finds a new report from the non-profit Qualistar Colorado. That’s because there’s only enough capacity among licensed providers in Colorado to handle 23 percent of the state’s children aged zero to five.

The shortage of licensed providers is particularly acute in some rural counties, according to the annual Qualistar Colorado Signature Report released today. For example, licensed facilities, which can include both child care centers and home-based providers,have capacity for less than 10 percent of children under six in Jackson, Kiowa, Rio Blanco, Custer, Moffat, Park, Conejos and Morgan counties. While some parents may be able to find relatives, friends or other unlicensed providers to care for the young children, licensing guarantees that a basic level of health and safety measures are in place.

The child care outlook is worse for babies and toddlers under two. There is only enough licensed capacity to provide care for 18 percent of them statewide. The report goes on to say that some counties are experiencing an “infant care crisis,” with increasing numbers of providers choosing not to care for babies even though they are licensed to do so.

The news is not all bleak, though. Some communities are getting help from a 2013 state law that created and funded the “Infant and Toddler Quality and Availability Grant” program. Eleven early childhood councils around the state are getting money this year to add slots for babies or improve facilities for that age group.

In addition to the 2014 Signature Report, Qualistar has recently published two special reports on the cost of child care in Colorado. The first, released in June, examined child care prices and affordability. The second, released in August, looked at the cost of doing business in the child care field. The final brief in the three-part series is set to be published in late 2014 and will look at recommendations to improve child care affordability.