Steamboat day care will be accepting 40 new children next year
In the midst of a crisis due to lack of child care in the Yampa Valley, Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation is hoping it has found a small solution to a much larger problem.
Thanks to a $23,288 Rural Economic Development Initiative grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, a child care space will be funded at Howelsen Ice Arena, which will allow the city to welcome in about 40 more children.
The grant is specifically to furnish the space, but Recreation Manager Alexis Wolf said the ice rink renovations will provide the city’s first space dedicated solely to child care since the closing of its igloo building in 2018.
Parks and Recreation has been operating after-school and summer camp programs at Soda Creek Elementary School, but Wolf said the school was only a temporary location and summer camps would naturally have to expand outside of the school, which the Howelsen expansion will help get rid of.
“It’s not only in reaction to losing the igloo space, but it’s trying to ensure that when things happen unexpectedly, we have a place to be,” Wolf said. “Currently, the city does not have any square footage dedicated to child care, and this will help with that.”
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While 40 children may seem like a small number, Angela Pleshe, program leader at First Impressions of Routt County, said any number to make a dent in the amount of children needing after-school and summer programs is still better than nothing.
“We discovered this year with the ski area not running their child care program, this region simply does not have enough access to school-aged child care,” Wolf said.
Pleshe said Routt County currently has 1,208 children younger than 5, with 641 child care slots available across the county.
“The first five years of life, our children’s brains are just growing and growing and growing, so that’s such an important time to have well-qualified teachers in an enriching environment,” Pleshe said.
Pleshe and Wolf both said lack of child care options has long been a problem in rural communities, with Routt County being no exception, but the problem has increased recently, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. One facet of the problem, both women said, is that hiring child care staff has become incredibly difficult.
While businesses nationwide are facing hiring challenges for a variety of reasons, Wolf attributed Routt County’s difficulty finding child care instructors to low pay and lack of inexpensive housing in the community.
“It’s a combination of affordable housing, transportation, the timing of the job, the nature of the job,” Wolf said. “It’s always been a problem, but the problem now is we’re losing staff so we can’t open anymore.”
Wolf said many in the community may not always realize how necessary child care is because of the way school schedules line up with most traditional work schedules, as most children are out of school by 3 p.m., but adults may not be done with work until 5 p.m. or later.
“Everyone is so excited to take care of those day care bills, but we still have kids to take care of during the day,” Wolf said. “We still want to be there and support those families who need help outside of the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day hours.”
Pleshe said another problem child care providers face nationwide is feeling like the job is not dignified.
“There is a perception by a lot of people that it’s just babysitting, but for many of our centers, it’s not just babysitting, it’s early-childhood education,” Pleshe said. “We need to attract more people to the field, but before we can do that, we need to change the perception of the field.”
Parks and Recreation expects the full expansion to be done by March.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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