Summit County leaders spotlight child care resources, projects amid high demand
With more than 600 children still on a waitlist, government officials and community leaders are seeking a myriad of solutions from financial aid to expanding at-home care
With child care desperately needed among Summit County parents, government officials and community leaders gathered for a public forum on Wednesday, May 11, to spotlight what’s being done to help families.
More than 600 children continue to remain on a waitlist for child care in the county. A growing population and a shortage of providers has only exacerbated demand. When parents can’t find care, it can hamper their ability to work, and children may lose out on a vital opportunity for early development.
“This is, I would say, my No. 1 priority in county government,” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, who said she remembers being a single parent in the county and struggling to find child care.
After moving to the county in 2005, Lawrence recalled calling a friend at the Carriage House child care center in Breckenridge “crying and begging that she needed to go to work and that my baby needed a place to go.”
“I think that sounds pretty familiar,” Lawrence told the crowd of dozens. “We know this is a challenge.”
But in the years since Lawrence’s experience, opportunities have expanded in the county, she said.
That includes two countywide financial assistance programs aimed at low- and middle-income families, Summit First Steps, which helps pay for child care for children under 3, and Summit PreK, which supports children in preschool between the ages of 3 and 4.
That’s in addition to statewide universal preschool, which was signed into law last year by Gov. Jared Polis and will kick in for families beginning this fall. The program provides 15 free hours of preschool per week for 4-year-olds, with some families elligible to receive up to 30 hours, depending on qualifying factors. It also provides 10 hours for qualifying 3-year-olds.
The program could save families up to $6,000 on preschool costs for the year, according to Catherine Schaaf, director for the social services organization Early Childhood Options.
“So a really great benefit across the state for our community and for Colorado,” Schaaf said.
Schaaf, in a previous interview with the Summit Daily News, said the cost for infant to toddler care — which represents children as young as 6 weeks to 2 years old — can be $90 a day or about $2,000 a month. For preschool, which encompasses children usually around the ages of 3 and 4, the cost can be about $1,500 a month, according to Schaaf.
But even with financial aid, families can struggle to find availability. It’s why Laura Cronin, the county’s child care licensing specialist, urged residents to consider becoming an at-home provider.
Currently, the county has 13 homes licensed for child care, Cronin said. That’s in addition to nine centers, five Summit School District preschools and three summer day camps.
Households can also watch up to four children without needing a child care license, something Cronin said many residents may not be aware of. Two of those four can also be under the age of 2, Cronin said.
Still, expanding larger centers throughout the county remains a top priority as officials seek to whittle down the waitlist. By the end of this year, the county could have more than 100 new child care spots with the unveiling of two centers.
One of those is a 8,800-square-foot center, dubbed the Wildflower Nature School, that is being constructed near the Smith Ranch neighborhood in the town of Silverthorne. Costing about $8.5 million, the project was a major undertaking for county officials, who partnered with Silverthorne officials and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse to secure funding.
After the pandemic and rising costs delayed the project, it is now set to open in September with enrollment beginning in August, according to Executive Director Tiernan Gannon. The center will be able to house more than 70 children, Gannon said.
The center will be nature-based, incorporating the outdoors and environmental-literacy to use “nature as a third teacher,” Gannon said.
“There’s a ton of research out there about nature being such an integral part and tool for fostering children’s health and development,” Gannon said. “Research suggests that there’s a variety of ways that nature enhances children’s health and development, including enhancing brain development, providing mental health benefits, promoting physical activity and motor development.”
Copper Mountain Resort Association is leading the construction of a second center that will be located in Copper’s Center Village. It will house more than 40 children and could be open by the end of this year.
For Lawrence, the projects are an embodiment of the county’s perseverance to make child care more affordable and accessible.
“Opening a preschool is not cheap. Most of our centers here are nonprofits,” Lawrence said. “We’re always looking to try to recruit more in-home centers and help our existing centers wherever they can to expand capacity.”
From financial aid to waitlists for centers, here are resources available for accessing child care in Summit County:
For information on Summit First Steps, Summit PreK, Head Start programs and the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program go to TinyURL.com/EarlyChildhoodOptions.
For information on the state’s universal preschool program, go to CDEC.Colorado.Gov/Colorado-Universal-Preschool.
Most county child care providers have their own waitlists on their websites, but residents can apply to be on multiple waitlists at once by going to EarlyChildhoodOptions.org/Looking-for-Childcare.
Colorado Shines, a state resource, also offers resources at ColoradoShines.com.
Babysitting and nannying
For one-time babysitting and nanny placement services, which are vetted through background checks and interviews, go to SummitNannies.com.
Resort Sitters also offers babysitting services at ResortSitters.com.
Preschool and kindergarten
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