Summit County data shows after-school child care at ‘crisis’ levels |

Summit County data shows after-school child care at ‘crisis’ levels

County commissioners plan to host town hall for child care options

A camper makes his move in a game of connect four during free time at the Breckenridge Mountain Camp in Breckenridge on February 17, 2022.
John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

Summit County commissioners are hoping to bring the community together to create long-term solutions as local parents continue to grapple with child care shortages.

At a work session meeting Tuesday, March 15, the commissioners discussed a potential town hall with child care leaders to develop solutions to the county’s child care problems. The idea for the town hall, which does not yet have a confirmed date, came about after Keystone Science School announced it would cancel its after-school programs at Dillon Valley, Frisco and Silverthorne elementary schools starting Thursday, March 17.

With the science school out of the picture, the county only has the capacity to serve 205 children with daily after-school care, according to data from a child care needs assessment survey conducted by Root Policy Research, a Denver-based policy research firm.

The after-school situation is in “crisis mode,” said Molly Fitzpatrick, managing director at the firm, who presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

The firm interviewed after-school providers who said they struggle to meet demand for on-site programs without the ability to provide transportation all while managing major staffing shortages. The providers called for regional coordination within the school district and asked the county to help solve the issue.

In the weeks since the science school announced its cancellation, other organizations have worked to increase capacity. Lake Dillon Theatre Co. plans to host 42 students at its after-school program at Silverthorne Elementary starting Monday, March 21, Artistic Director Chris Alleman said. The theater company plans to expand to Summit Cove and Dillon Valley elementary schools next year and add another 70 after-school program spots.

But even with some of the short-term issues alleviated, the county leaders plan to pursue long-term options to the child care issue.

“I think our role in this conversation has to be to uplift our partners that are going to need to solve this problem,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said at a March 8 work session meeting, when the idea for the town hall was first brought up.

Fitzpatrick’s presentation showed that only 726 of the county’s 4,367 children are enrolled in some form of child care, and 559 children are on a waitlist for child care. It’s possible that some of the children on the waitlist are currently enrolled but need additional days or want to join other programs, Fitzpatrick said.

Of the children on the waitlist, 13% have not been born, 52% are 2 years old or younger, 29% are 2-4 years old and 7% are older than 4, indicating that infant care is the most difficult to access.

The firm received 530 responses from Summit County households to a survey about child care concerns. The survey stated that 67% of Summit County households are using some form of child care for children under 6 years old, 4% are not using child care because of the COVID-19 pandemic and 28% are not using it regardless of the pandemic.

However, only 45% of the families that do use child care rely on a licensed center. Many families, 32%, find themselves rearranging work hours so an adult is home, 26% of families have a nanny or babysitter and 26% use friend-, family- or neighbor-based care.

“Folks are using multiple types of care in order to make their schedule work,” Fitzpatrick said. “Some of that is preference driven. Some of that is availability driven.”

The majority of households who answered “no” to using child care said their child is either on the waitlist or the waitlist is too long.

Of all the families who responded to the survey, 63% said the waitlist for child care is too long or care is not available on the days they need it. Forty-five percent said it costs too much, and they can’t afford it.

The firm also interviewed early child care providers, who said they’ve struggled with a notable increase in demand coupled with staffing struggles.

Rather than tackling the child care issue alone, the commissioners hope to address the struggles at the town hall while providing families with more resources.

The commissioners tentatively scheduled the town hall for March 29. However, that date could change as the county coordinates with town and child care leaders.

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