A crisis of care: Family, friends and neighbors in need
Filling in the gaps in child care coverage
For the Post Independent
Editor’s note: This is the second of four stories focusing on the challenges parents and guardians face in finding adequate child care in Garfield County. Read the first part, “No winners in Western Slope’s child care dilemma” here. Part three focuses on challenges facing child care facilities and will publish Friday, and part four focuses on potential solutions and will publish Monday, Feb. 28.
For nearly 10 years, Roxana De La Rosa loved her job working in an oil field office.
She didn’t want to leave.
She also wanted to have another child.
Those two desires brought her face-to-face with a harsh reality in her hometown of Parachute: A lack of available child care would likely mean De La Rosa could either continue working or have another child, but not both.
“I could not find child care anywhere,” De La Rosa said. “I did not want to leave my job. It was nine years and a half and I was in a really good position. I did because I had nobody to watch my baby.”
De La Rosa became a stay-at-home mom. The family began relying solely on her husband’s income, which was enough to get by on with some cutbacks. Her job had previously provided their health insurance, so they temporarily lost their coverage.
There was no other option, especially in Parachute. Local child care facilities were overbooked or had subsidized cost requirements that, despite having only one cash flow, the De La Rosas didn’t meet. And the commute time required to take her daughter to Silt or other neighboring towns for child care still wouldn’t have allowed De La Rosa to maintain her career.
However, De La Rosa was able to continue teaching Sunday school at her church to children ages 1-5. One day, a Sunday school parent asked if she could start watching their child regularly.
Then others started asking here and there for her to watch their children.
She took on new clients. De La Rosa understood personally the struggle mothers face between their children, their careers, their incomes and their financial security.
“I know the struggle of finding somebody. That’s why I do it,” De La Rosa said. “I know these kids. I know there’s a lot of crazy people out in the world and I feel like I can do my part by keeping them safe.”
De La Rosa is an in-home child care provider, part of a network called Friends, Family and Neighbors. She is not yet a licensed child care provider, but can legally watch up to four children at one time.
She is one of many from her home of Parachute throughout the Colorado River Valley and up the Roaring Fork Valley, all the way to Aspen.
As both costs and wait times grow for traditional child care, more people are turning to the age-old tradition of taking a village to raise a child.
Friends, Family and Neighbors (FFN) networks care for hundreds of children across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Grandparents, siblings, family friends and community members help hundreds of children be cared for in private homes.
Valley Settlement — a nonprofit focused on helping immigrants — works with providers on training and pairing with parents in need among its six programs that incorporate child care.
Director of Development and Communications Sally Broughton said the group is currently working “very intensely” with 32 providers through its FFN network, and has facilitated care for up to nearly 160 children concurrently as stay-at-home options fluctuate with seasonal work.
Their providers are currently all female, but cover the spectrum from grandmothers to young women interested in starting a career in child care.
Broughton said that there’s a high demand for alternative child care options, whether it’s because of language barriers, cultural preference or necessity.
“The system itself is not built for working families, the families that we are working with,” Broughton said. “It’s not flexible for working families. If you have someone who needs to leave their home at 5 a.m. to get up to Aspen and then they need to leave Aspen at 6 or 7 p.m., traditional child care is not going to work for them, no matter where in the valley.”
Beyond the advantage of simply being another option in the saturated child care market, in-home providers can be more flexible with scheduling and can be cheaper. Valley Settlement’s Kenia Pinela said providers charge from $15-30 per child, where traditional options can double that figure.
Quality of care
When De La Rosa began taking on additional clients and her daughter got older, she wanted to make sure that her child wasn’t behind entering preschool.
“I think some of those are wonderful and are built out of a real passion and commitment, and I think some of them are out of necessity and could benefit from more resources and more support for the folks who are doing those kinds of care for little people,” Roaring Fork School District Human Services Director Anna Cole said of in-home child care.
Groups like Valley Settlement and Early Childhood Network provide courses to improve care quality and educational standards and combat the stigma that in-home care sets students behind when entering the education system.
“We need to take the stigma away,” Soira Ceja, a Friends, Family and Neighbors coach for Early Childhood Network, said. “A lot of our FFNs are really prepared. They’re not just learning how to care for these children, but they’re also wanting to grow.”
Ceja said they held their first FFN courses graduation in summer 2021. One of the students is now studying to be a teacher. Others are pursuing child care licenses, which pave the way to providing in-home care for more children.
Valley Settlement’s coaching program uses a curriculum from the state.
Preschool preparedness is difficult to measure, especially in the case of children “graduating” from an FFN child care program against traditional ones. The coaches and educators of providers instead look at the before and after of their efforts.
“I don’t think anybody really knows what quality looks like,” Pinela said. “But, we as educators see the changes instantly. You walk in a home and maybe it doesn’t even look like kids are there, and then after being with us for a while you’ve got a little reading center. You’re starting to see that snacks are changing for kids and they’re starting to look healthier. You’re starting to see activities that the kids did placed on the walls.”
The child care crunch will not be solved by in-home care alone, but it is alleviating it. For those like De La Rosa, it opens options for their friends, family and neighbors to work with their hours and their incomes.
But creating a labor force of in-home providers — which skews almost exclusively female — brings up other issues.
“What I see is people sacrificing their own professional dreams and goals in order to make this crazy system of early childhood care work for their families and putting all that on hold,” Cole said. “It’s just really frustrating, from strengthening families and a real integrated family network, to see that.”
De La Rosa was one of the people frustrated by her lack of options and what it meant for her career, but has been able to spin it around and turn it into a new career. Looking back now, she said she wouldn’t go back to her previous job if the opportunity arose.
She’s working part time doing billing services from home on top of providing child care. She’s also taken the next steps in the in-home world and is assisting Ceja with teaching the same courses that she took.
“My experience in the community is that there’s not enough (child care),” De La Rosa said. “But if I can go and find people that may be interested, maybe after taking these classes they want to maybe open a daycare. … If I can get more people interested, that will be a big help for my community.”
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