Breckenridge parents feel pinch of child care shortage in Upper Blue | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge parents feel pinch of child care shortage in Upper Blue

Breckenridge families are becoming more dependent on child care outside the family, a realization from one of two Denver-based consulting firms that recently explored the challenges facing the child care system and offered a few suggestions to help address them.

If it's not cost, the biggest pinch on child care in the Upper Blue Basin might be capacity. Of the almost 400 children with regular child care needs, more than 150 have been waitlisted, according to BBC Research & Consulting.

Looking at population changes, local birth rates and other influencers, BBC Research & Consulting performed a recent update to the town's 2016 childcare needs assessment and predicted continual increases in demand through at least 2025. While the number of children in child care can fluctuate, the consultants discovered that 284 children were regularly receiving child care in Breckenridge during the latest data-collection period in the spring.

The vast majority of those children, 245 total, were regularly attending one of the four early education centers in Breckenridge — Carriage House, the Little Red SchoolHouse, Timberline Learning Center or Breckenridge Montessori School — which collectively account for 71 percent of the Upper Blue's capacity for licensed child care providers.

Another 61 children were enrolled in early childhood education and development programs at Upper Blue Elementary or Open Arms, and 32 more children were receiving care through licensed family providers.

Overall, the families of these 284 children sought care 3.7 days a week on average, and 19 percent of those children were under the age of 2.

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Up from 32 children in 2015, the 154 unduplicated children on waitlists last spring was a significant increase, and the vast majority of those children were infants (42 percent) and toddlers (44 percent).

"Some won't be born yet because parents will get on these waitlists as early as they can," said Jennifer McAtamney, administrator of Breckenridge's child care program, who explained that many parents know how difficult it is to secure child care for infants, and sign up just as soon as they know about a pregnancy.

Among some of BBC's recommendations to address the supply shortage are for the town to continue working with existing providers to expand their capacity while also seriously considering other measures designed to bring another child care facility to Breckenridge.

Not only are Breckenridge's child care providers so full they're turning families away, but those same providers are struggling to retain many of their best teachers, according to another consulting firm, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

At the same time BBC Research and Consulting was updating the town's needs assessment, the consultants at APA were performing "a gut check" of Breckenridge's early childhood education program a decade after it was created.

Overall, APA was highly complimentary of Breckenridge's efforts to support child care and early education, which comes primarily in the forms of tuition assistance and, more recently, supplementing teacher salaries at the four early education centers.

"APA's primary finding is that the town's child care program is a high-quality program that is respected and admired by leaders of other mountain communities," its consultants wrote, adding that both components help parents and teachers alike cope with the county's high cost of living.

Budgeted at $150,000 this year, its first year in existence, Breckenridge's salary-assistance program has boosted the wages of 49 teachers at the town's four nonprofit centers, according to McAtamney. The centers also have to regularly report back to the town statistics regarding teacher retention so local officials can track the impact of the new program.

But that's not to say there's no room for improvement. In addition to maintaining and refining the town's tuition-assistance program, APA suggested a handful of ways the town might better support those teachers, including looking at possible retirement programs and health benefits. The tuition-assitance program is reserved for Breckenridge families that make up to 150 percent of the average median income and spent $715,000 in 2017 to prevent those families from having to spend more than 13-16 percent of their incomes on child care.

Other suggestions from APA were to look for more sustainable funding to support the town's early education program and seek savings through shared services at the four centers.

After discussing the latest consultants' reports, Breckenridge Town Council asked McAtamney to put the consultants' recommendations to a cost-benefit analysis so council could better weigh which ones the town might want to pursue.

Some hope also rests with the county's 1A ballot initiative, which would create a robust tuition-assistance program for Summit County's 4-year-olds, in addition to supporting the construction of a child care center on the northern end of the county.

Should the measure pass, the money Breckenridge is currently spending on its 4-year-olds through the town's tuition-assistance program could be directed elsewhere, McAtamney said, such as extending the life of the town's tuition-assistance program or covering some of the consultants' recommendations.

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