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Choices in childcare

JULIE SUTORsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Reid Williams Preschoolers gather around Rocky Mountain Montessori School assistant Brooke Adamus for story time Wednesday.
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DILLON – On a Wednesday afternoon, Lucinda Burns gets a desperate phone call in her office in Dillon. The stressed-out, cash-strapped young parent on the other end of the line has a toddler – and a new job that starts on Monday.It’s scramble time for Burns, director of Early Childhood Options, a nonprofit child-care resource and referral service headquartered in Dillon.”It’s the most frustrating call I get,” she said. “We’ll help you find something in those emergency situations, but there are only a handful of infant/toddler slots out there and maybe a dozen preschool slots. And they may not be in the location you want.”Demand for childcare is high in Summit County, partly due to the extremely high proportion of women in the local workforce. According to Burns, 82 percent of local women work, one of the highest rates in the country. Also, the high proportion of parents working odd hours in resorts or other service-industry jobs adds to the pressure.Those factors, on top of the financial strains of quality care, result in many children who spend their days in unlicensed, unregulated, illegal childcare.Consequently, it’s crucial for parents to plan ahead when balancing children’s educational and social needs, family finances and hectic schedules.

“One thing we know is that they’re always learning at this age (0-6), whether they’re at home or in a program. That’s why it’s so important for parents to give a lot of thought to the quality of education in those early years,” Burns said.For many parents, cost and availability understandably become the top priorities when searching for childcare and early childhood education. However, Burns urges parents to put program quality at the top of the list of criteria. She also urges parents to take time to find a program that best fits their children’s needs.”Find out about the philosophical approach of the program; find out about the curriculum. The most important thing is that it’s based on solid research and the teachers are well-grounded and trained to implement it,” Burns said.

In Summit …In Summit County, child-care centers and home child-care providers offer a variety of approaches, including Montessori-based, play-based and Creative Curriculum, all of which have demonstrated success, Burns said. So it’s good for parents to hang out in a number of facilities to observe the differences and see what matches their own styles, personalities and values.Early Childhood Options staff can help parents narrow the sea of choices (Summit County has 22 home providers, nine private centers and five public schools), direct them to programs with openings and come up with a list of questions and criteria for parents to explore as they make the rounds.

“It’s like choosing a doctor. You need to find someone you can communicate with over time,” Burns said. “The best indicator is going to be the feeling you get when you walk in the door.”Among the most important criteria for any program are:– A current child-care license. This ensures the program meets health and safety guidelines and other regulations.– Group size: the more individual attention children receive from adults, the better.– The provider’s background and training in early childhood education. The provider should be able to discuss the kinds of activities and experiences a child will have at each stage of development.So, what if a parent has his or her heart set on a program, but can’t find the money for tuition? There are funds available from the federal, local and state government. Programs like Head Start and the Colorado Preschool Program will cover 100 percent of tuition costs for families that qualify through income or other risk factors.Other programs are designed to help families that make more money than those programs’ income limits, but still struggle with Summit County’s high cost of living.”And some individual programs have scholarships, so it’s important to ask,” Burns said.Parents should also remember that there are child-care tax credits, and some employers offer child-care benefits.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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