More parents have been able to find licensed child care for their infants and toddlers thanks to grants through the Southwest Colorado Early Childhood Collaborative.
In the first year, the grants have helped child care centers across the region improve their buildings and buy equipment, making it possible for them to care for more children, said Tamara Volz, executive director for the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County.
Volz’s organization worked with the Montezuma Early Childhood Council to form the regional childhood collaborative, which received funding from the El Pomar Foundation.
So far, the initiative has helped add 69 child care openings for infants and toddlers in Archuleta, La Plata and Montezuma counties. La Plata County added 36 openings, and Montezuma added 29.
It’s expensive for centers to offer infant and toddler care because the number of children each caregiver can care for is lower.
For example, one staff member is required for every five children between 1 to 3 years old, Volz said.
While the grants were not available for to help pay salaries, they did help centers improve facilities.
At the Ute Mountain Ute Child Development Center a $16,665 grant helped pay for new changing tables, safety gates, toys, playground equipment and repainting to help care for 15 new infants and toddlers, according to a progress report from the center.
“Getting this grant is huge. It’s a huge step for the program just for the tribe to see that there are other funding opportunities,” said Kassy Gnas, the early childhood director for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.
The tribe fully funds the center, without any help from the state. At other centers, low-income parents can qualify for assistance to help pay for care.
Even after its expansion, the Ute Mountain Ute center still has a waiting list of about 10.
There is also a major need to open the center to children 6 to 12 months old, she said.
But like many others across the region, Gnas struggles finding staff members.
“We’re reaching a perfect storm. Now we have increased the slots by 69; now the new challenge is finding a qualified workforce,” Volz said.
At the Riverhouse Children’s Center in Durango, executive director Carolyn Tinsley was able to reduce teacher turnover and burnout by offering higher pay and adding support staff and a half day off per week.
“The intensity of the job and what you put into it emotionally is not worth the pay,” Tinsley said.
The Riverhouse also benefited from a $5,277 grant from the collaborative that helped them open a new room and care for 10 more children a day.
To help more fully understand the workforce problem, Volz just sent out a survey to regional child care center directors.