More Summit families are now eligible for early child care financial assistance, but the waitlist remains long
FRISCO — Summit County has a growing community of more than 30,000 residents. Many young families try to take root here, but there are few early child care facilities in the county to support them. Even when spots are available for children 4 and younger, the tuition expenses can be too much for some working families to bear.
Recent changes in income eligibility requirements for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program mean more families in Summit County will be able to apply for financial assistance to cover some of their child care costs. But the county’s shortage in early child care providers could mean the eligibility changes help few, if any, Summit residents in the short term.
The funding program, which is administered locally by the Summit County Department of Human Services, helps low-income families with child care costs if they are residing in Summit and are homeless, working, searching for work or in school.
The program is one of several that can help Summit families pay for early childhood care, the others being Head Start, the Colorado Preschool Program, the town of Breckenridge’s child care tuition assistance program and tuition assistance from the recently passed 1A ballot measure known as Strong Future.
Each county sets eligibility requirements for families. In Summit, eligibility has now been set to 265% of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four making up to $5,542.92 a month, or just over $66,000 a year, is eligible for assistance under the program.
Assistant county manager Sarah Vaine, who oversees the county’s department of human services, said 51 families in Summit are accessing benefits through the state program with another 12 on a waitlist.
Lucinda Burns, executive director of early child care navigation nonprofit Early Childhood Options, said the eligibility increase might help a few more families get assistance, but it’s still not nearly enough for the demand in Summit and across the state.
“The challenge we have is that we don’t have sufficient dollars from state and federally funded programs,” Burns said. “It’s only sufficient to cover about a third of potentially eligible families.”
But even with funding available, the greater problem with lack of supply means it might be for naught. Summit County has eight community-based early child care centers, five school district preschools with a total of 10 classrooms, 14 licensed home care providers and eight mentors.
Once those slots are filled up, families are put on a waitlist. Burns said there are more than 300 children on the waitlist, with some families waiting to get into early child care regardless of the funding source.
“Even with the changes to (Colorado Child Care Assistance Program) eligibility, the waitlist will remain in place,” Vaine said. “We won’t be able to serve any additional families because of the changes. More families with kids in child care already getting CCCAP may be able to stay under the cutoff ceiling and receive assistance for longer, but it’s still a situation where we have significantly more families needing service than money or room to provide.”
For families looking to get their kids a head start in life, early child care can make a significant difference in how their child’s formal education begins.
“A good quality early child care program focuses on helping children develop the best of their cognitive, social and emotional abilities,” Burns said. “The research is really clear that children that have access to quality preschooling will see it help them in school and in later life.”
Summit County voters recognized the problem and passed Ballot Initiative 1A this past November, which allocated $25 million to early child care assistance over the next decade. Burns said the majority of people eligible for the program have received tuition assistance, with significantly higher income eligibility thresholds than the state program.
“It’s one of the examples of why we’re so grateful to voters for 1A Strong Future funds,” County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “The Summit Pre-K program is able to supplement these other programs more than what we’ve been able to previously.”
As far as issues with supply of early child care, there is no immediate solution. However, Vaine said the county is looking to use part of the 1A funds to build a new early child care center, preferably in the north part of the county. Those plans have yet to be finalized.
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