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I was sworn in about a month ago and have spent the past month working on many issues for the residents of Larimer County. Most recently, my fellow commissioners and I met for a retreat to discuss our work plan for the coming year.
Our work plan includes many items, including one item that I have worked on for years, addressing childcare needs in the county. Childcare is an issue that is crucial to our economic health and family stability, but in many places around the county, it is unaffordable and almost impossible to find.
In many ways, the crisis around childcare is a hidden problem that families have silently struggled with; COVID has only exacerbated this problem. During the pandemic, many working mothers have simply left the workforce. With schools and daycare centers closing, they had little choice. The New York Times has run a series called the “Primal Scream,” highlighting not only the struggles facing women and families but the mental health and food insecurity issues that arise with almost 1 million mothers across the country leaving the workforce. In our community, we have seen long lines at the food bank and millions of dollars of rent assistance being dispersed; we know families have been hard hit.
The truth is that childcare was a crisis long before the pandemic hit. I’ve dealt with this issue as a working mom when I struggled to find affordable before and after school care and summer care for my children. I also attended several presentations by the Early Childhood Council (ECC) that illuminated this problem. For example, there are only two non-profit childcare centers in the county that provide infant care, and infant care can cost up to $16,000 a year.
Several years ago, regional Chambers of Commerce, the United Way, and the Larimer County Economic Development Center released Talent 2.0, which spoke about barriers that keep existing residents from fully participating in the labor force, including a lack of childcare options in Larimer County. The ECC estimates we have about 7000 children in Larimer County under 5 that don’t have access to licensed childcare.
The county has been a partner in identifying the issues of childcare in our community, and we are committed to working on solutions to help struggling families. Last year our Human Services Department announced that we no longer have a waiting list for childcare assistance dollars (CCAP); this means that families who qualify for CCAP can get help with daycare needs. The county is also exploring providing a daycare center for county employees, which would take the strain off existing childcare centers and provide a model for large employers who are considering providing childcare for their workforce.
Finally, I have been asked by The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County and United Way of Larimer County to participate on a steering committee for a project to support access to early childhood education across the County. I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and local leaders on solutions to this pervasive problem.
Kristin Stephens is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.