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Chaffee County’s crisis in early childhood care and educational facilities for infants and toddlers has been there, right before our eyes for the past few years and it is growing worse, not better. Working parents of little ones continue to struggle for safe, quality childcare slots in a county where two working parents are the norm, officially qualifying Chaffee County as an early childcare desert.

Logo courtesy Chaffee County Early Childhood Council

Based on data from the CDEC 2023 Measures Report, the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council, has reported math that should concern all of us:

No. children ages birth – age 5      768

No. early childcare spaces             343

Percent served                                  44 percent

This means this county has quality childcare spaces for less than half of our young children.

Beyond this concerning statistic is this reality in Chaffee County:

  • There are only 10 — TEN — infant childcare spaces but the county has 219 kiddos ages o to 18 months
  • There are 65 toddler spaces for 239 kiddos ages 18 to 36 months

For a county that is now classified as “rural-resort” by the state of Colorado, in a resort and tourism economy that relies on two working parents, often those beginning their careers and young families — this is alarming.

This is why business owners and workers have shared with Ark Valley Voice that they are taking their children to worksites; from construction sites to the office buildings where they do cleaning services. This is why kids are hanging in the back rooms of their parent’s retail businesses and being shuttled back and forth between mom and dad during the workday. Can a parent worried about their young child’s childcare placement function at full capacity at work? A lot of them can — and do. But should they have to?

Image courtesy of CECC.org

This is why this topic was raised at the Chaffee Economic Development Corporation Annual meeting as “the county’s other crisis besides the housing crisis”. It hasn’t gotten the attention that housing has, but it has perhaps as critical an impact on families.

Chaffee County Early Childhood Council Executive Director Sarah Romack has also noted that the county doesn’t just have a childcare desert problem – we are also short of an early childhood workforce; those trained to interact with and teach little ones.

According to the Chaffee County Early Childhood Council, the county has fewer than 100 trained early childhood professionals and even fewer substitutes. This can cause a problem as childcare centers struggle to maintain the required child-to-adult caregiver ratio, as well as to reduce workforce turnover. Young children need safety and continuity, making teacher retention an important consideration.

For those wondering why this childcare crisis focuses on ages 0 to five — it’s because this county has quality childcare for age six and up. That before and after-school, summertime role is filled by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chaffee County in Buena Vista and Salida. The problem for working parents is making it to that age six qualifier.

Involving the Community in Solutions

To quote James Cagney, “The situation is serious, but not hopeless.”*

Residents of this community who value volunteering can volunteer in any of the county’s early childhood centers, assisting with a variety of tasks that help these centers operate. Or, you can join the Early Childhood Service Corps, and become what is called an “Encore Sub” for those 55 and older.

Those interested in learning more about that program can find out more here.

Residents here with means could also become private donors to one of the county’s early childcare centers. Individual residents of Chaffee County can donate via what is known as a Childcare Contribution Tax Credit. This could help fund more early childhood slots — and teachers.

Editor’s Note: *The phrase comes from Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three (1961). In it, James Cagney coaches Horst Buchholz to tell Buchholz’s American father-in-law that the situation is “serious, but not hopeless.” A flustered Buchholz tells his father-in-law, “The situation is hopeless, but not serious.”