Child care moonshot: Plan proposed to address Mesa County shortages

Mary Cornforth
Mary Cornforth

Have you ever struggled to find child care? Do you have an employee who’s missed work because of child care problems? Do you know child care providers who’re unable to recruit and retain qualified staff?

These questions reflect the very real issues facing parents of young children as well as employers. Mesa County has been called a child care desert because there’s not enough supply to meet demand, particularly in caring for children ages 5 and under. It’s estimated facilities can only serve 25 percent of children in that age range.

In a recent child care needs assessment, one parent lamented that lack of availability. “There are just not enough child care options, so trying to find a good fit is impossible. You just have to go with what’s open.”

A grocery store manager said, “There is an ongoing problem in hiring working parents due to lack of child care options. There were two specific situations within the last month that have posed a problem in employing or retaining employees that have children.”

Cost presents another challenge to working parents. One parent said, “It costs at least $30 per day for a toddler.  It’s almost impossible for a single mom to afford child care. Parents have to choose between work and taking care of your kid.”

Clearly, something must be done. Improving our child care system will require a community wide approach and long-term commitment from everyone. But these efforts can have tremendous effects on childhood well-being and our local economy.

According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report: “… child care is unique among early childhood programs because, if done right, it can serve two crucial purposes simultaneously: ensuring the healthy development of young children while enabling their parents to contribute as productive members of the work force.”

Where to begin? Our moonshot goal is to increase the number of sustainable licensed child care slots from 4,200 to 8,000 by 2020 — a 91 percent increase. We know this goal is big and brave. But it’s going to take big and brave thinking to tackle the child care issue.

In partnership with other community agencies, we want to create a culture in which high-quality child care serves as a foundation to education and employment pathways. Increasing the capacity to provide high-quality child care will have positive effects on school readiness while building a child care industry that will attract and retain a skilled labor force. We believe the child care industry could become an economic driver in our community.

In Colorado, the child care industry revenue combined with spillover effects contribute nearly $1.4 billion to the state economy. The industry employs 22,501 Coloradans and supports an additional 11,800 jobs in other industries across the state. Adding the 300 additional child care jobs needed to increase our child care capacity to 8,000 slots would add about $9 million annually to the local economy.

How do we go about nearly doubling our child care capacity? We must create a thriving local child care industry by improving efficiencies, increasing profit, preparing a skilled work force and enhancing quality. We intend to do this by:

Strengthening the child care work force through education and career pathways.

Optimizing child care business efficiencies through business management support and collaborative resources.

Enhancing the family child care home provider system through streamlining requirements and trainings as well as a mentor support network.

Partnering with local businesses to increase child care center capacity through recruitment strategies and child care tax credits.

In the short-term, here are some things your business can do to support our efforts and help employees find care for their children:

Direct employees in need of child care to the website at www.health.mesacounty.us    

Contact the Mesa County Public Health licensing team at 248-6900 to find available slots with licensed providers.

For those interested in entering the child care profession and providers who want to expand the education and training of their staffs, contact the Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families at 683-4303 to learn more about early childhood career pathways available in our community.

Again, this is an ambitious plan that will take community wide commitment. If you’d like to learn more about Mesa County Child Care 8,000 and how to be a part of the solution, contact Mesa County Public Health at 248-6900.