Thoughtful Parenting: Early childhood community plan
July 15, 2018
Whether you're a parent or not, early childhood education impacts you. The availability, affordability and quality of childcare, preschool and school-age programs shape not just the dynamic of a community, but also the economy. Parents face a nerve-wracking process to find childcare in Routt County as the demand has become far too much for the few licensed providers in town. Ultimately, mom or dad either get lucky, struggle to piece things together or leave the workforce, taking employee tax dollars with them.
There are roughly 220 babies born the Yampa Valley annually, about 77 percent have all their parents working — nearly 10 percent more than the statewide average. As the cost of living continues to climb, many families need two incomes. Many of us are aware that not only is there a massive gap between the demand and the providers available, especially for those younger than 2, but the cost is often unmanageable.
Though it's difficult to capture all the available providers and how many slots they have open in real time, there are an estimated 63 open slots available annually for about 339 children 2 and younger who need childcare in Routt County.
The head-scratcher is that as expensive as childcare remains, the wages that providers are able to pay their highly qualified staff are disappointingly low. A highly demanding job with few benefits makes the retention of quality care providers challenging. The dilemma of the cost being too high for families and providers being unable to provide higher salaries is certainly in need of a solution.
The community plan
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All of these challenges have prompted the First Impressions Council to team up with provider, family, employee, and community member workgroups to dig a little deeper into the challenges Routt County faces and create a community plan to outline what the future of childcare and early childhood education looks like here. The process in which we are gathering data is ongoing, and we have had some fantastic feedback so far.
We have heard from parents and their employers, and some of it we already knew — there is not enough licensed childcare for children newborn to 2 years old and it is difficult for many families to afford. We've also heard some new things — a government office left with a single employee because she's the only one with childcare that week, families of children with special needs (medical, behavioral or otherwise) quitting their jobs until their children are old enough for kindergarten.
There is a tangible effect on the economy of our community when parents experience these struggles. Whether you are an employer, a parent or a customer in our community, these challenges affect you directly. As we move forward with the development of a community plan for early childhood care and education in Routt County, we encourage you to get involved. Visit the First Impressions of Routt County website at firstimpressionsofrouttcounty.org or contact Stephanie Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-870-5270 for more information about how you can contribute. You can also like First Impressions of Routt County on Facebook and check out the First Impressions tent on Yampa Street between Seventh and Eighth streets at the Main Street Steamboat Springs Farmers Market.
Stephany Traylor is a member of the Routt County United Way board and co-chair of the parent working group for the Routt County Early Childhood Community Plan. One of Routt County United Way's identified impact areas is early childhood education. Beth Melton is an executive committee member of the First Impressions Council and a member of the parent working group for the Early Childhood Community Plan. First Impressions is the early childhood council for Routt County and supports early childhood care and education in Routt County.