Colorado works to ease child care pinch
Last of two parts.
After seven years of running a child care center out of her home, Rebecca Fuller says the same problems still exist that drove her to start taking care of children in the first place.
“Nothing has changed,” Fuller said. “There still aren’t enough options for families.”
The persistence of the problem speaks to the complexity of the issue, but in recent years and months, real concerted efforts have been made to address the challenges of finding child care in Colorado.
Several groups in the Roaring Fork Valley working on solutions to the problems of affordability, accessibility and supply and demand.
Jonathan Godes works for the Early Childhood Network, a service that helps families in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties find child care services. Godes and the Early Childhood Network have a wide-reaching set of goals to help make the process easier for everyone involved.
“We try to work with current providers to expand what they do, we have coaches and mentors that go in and work with teachers or providers,” Godes said. “With accessibility, we are trying to find ways to get families that need care the families that they need.”
The issue starts with money, and federal and state governments have started investing in solutions. In 2012, the state of Colorado received $44 million as part of the nationwide Federal Race to the Top Early Learning Grant.
“The intent for the grant is to increase school readiness for children, specifically for middle to lower income families,” said Lindsey Dorneman, a communications and project manager at the Colorado Office of Early Childhood. “In 2015 we developed Colorado Shines, a program which provides quality ratings to child care centers, provides technical and financial assistance and connects families to facilities.”
Colorado Shines helps families connect with child care providers in their area by matching their preferences and needs with the capabilities of different providers. The program is also the state’s monitoring and rating service for child care centers.
Now in order to become a licensed child care provider, applicants must be rated by Colorado Shines.
“It used to be where providers had the option to be rated,” said Godes. “Only 10 percent got rated and it didn’t really matter. Colorado has gone to a system where in order to operate you have to get rated.”
The state has also set up funding for child care assistance. Grants were issued at the beginning of 2015 aimed at helping child care providers.
“The Early Childhood Council Leadership Alliance is a state level council and they received the contract to administer the kits and licensing fee reimbursing costs,” said Stacy Petty of the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Council. “This was last year, and now we are trying to find out if we can do mini grants for the providers. We haven’t gotten the final OK from the state but we are hoping to get that this year.”
The idea is to address the problem by starting with the providers themselves.
“The intent is to help those interested in becoming licensed to encourage them to do so,” Dorneman said. “The grants provide funding to become licensed by covering licensing and training fees and allowing providers to purchase any materials that they may need.”
By mobilizing more providers and increasing the quality of their care all at little to no cost to them, the grants will ideally lower the rates that providers have to charge. Since the grants can also be used to purchase things that the child care homes or centers need such as toys and educational materials, the providers will also have higher margins on what they charge.
The grants provide incentives for those already providing child care in some capacity to become licensed and improve the quality of the care that they are providing.
AVOIDING UNLICENSED CARE
“If they accept children who receive a childcare subsidy,” Dorneman said, “they receive reimbursements at a higher rate. This allows families access to higher quality child care services.”
These subsidies are the answer to the problem from the family side. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program offers subsidies for families who need help affording quality child care. Qualifying low-income families can apply for government assistance to help cover the costs of care. This allows both parents to work and is meant to remove incentives to opting for unlicensed care.
The biggest problem remaining is the availability of child care for families. Solving this problem will take time. Although these solutions aren’t specifically targeted at setting up more child care facilities, all of the funding and programs have the added benefit of making child care a more worthwhile profession.
Currently, Garfield County has the child care resources available to care for roughly 1,300 children younger than 5, according to the Colorado Department of Human Resources. But nearly triple that number of children younger than 5 live in the county.
Organizations like the Early Childhood Network and the Office of Early Childhood will continue to work on solving the problems from the ground up. It’s a complex network of issues, but the solution to one will likely lead to more solutions for the others.
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