Early childcare is indeed community development

Early childcare is an important aspect of economic development and community development.

This simple reality is becoming increasingly clear in Grand County as employers continue to struggle with ongoing staffing issues. By that I mean employers simply can’t find enough people to work in their businesses and public entities.

One major reason people aren’t going back to work after the disruption of COVID is because they are not able to find early childhood care for their children. In some cases parents must leave one caregiver at home to watch a young child because there aren’t any places available for early childcare in Grand County.

Or, they do the math and realize the cost for early childcare results in just a cash trade-off for one person’s work. So one stays home.

The numbers may vary depending on exactly who I talk to, but Grand Beginnings, an agency in the county that supports programs, health and education for young children, estimates that there are 150 families in the county on waiting lists to get into early child care. This number can be a little bit inexact because waiting lists are up to two years long and in that period many families on the lists have simply left the area in frustration.

But for every family that leaves the county because they can’t get child care (read that to say potential employees who have left the county) there are other families arriving to get right back in line on the list. And the list is expanding.

I know of one center in the Granby area that has 75 families on a waiting list. That’s right: 75 at just one center.

I admit that I’m taking a sort of twisted approach to this aspect of early child care in that I’m looking at it from an economic and business perspective. The real and primary focus of this child care issue really should be centered on the children because the experts know that investing in early childhood care provides a foundation in children’s lives that gives them a better sense of wellbeing, a higher chance for success in life and school and better health outcomes. Ultimately, that results in stronger communities.

And yet, as a society we struggle to sufficiently support this important and critical aspect of a child’s life. So, yes, the child’s well-being and future is the first priority. As well, studies show that families who have affordable, high-quality care for their children form a better workforce for today’s economy.

And yet we are failing a large portion of our population because we can’t provide enough spaces for early childhood care. Our existing early childcare centers and preschools do a great job of helping with this issue. We are lucky to have what we have. But they can’t service the demand due to the high cost of new facilities and the need for workforce to work with our youngest citizens.

All which leads me to this point. Right now many communities in Grand County are working on plans for workforce and affordable housing. That’s great. But these plans should incorporate into their design new space for early childcare because workforce housing and affordable housing shouldn’t just be rooms and apartments. It needs to be community-based, offering residents support for family and community needs.

So please, planners and affordable housing advocates, include space for early childhood care in your new projects. Any new workforce community won’t be complete without it.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He’s also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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