Early childhood is indeed a community development

Child care is an important aspect of economic development and community development.

This simple reality is becoming increasingly clear in Grand County as employers continue to grapple with ongoing staffing issues. By this I mean that employers simply cannot find enough people to work in their companies and public entities.

One of the main reasons people are not returning to work after the COVID disruption is that they are unable to find early childhood care for their children. In some cases, parents must leave a caregiver at home to babysit a young child because there are no available child care spaces in Grand County.

Or, they do the math and realize that the cost of childcare translates into a simple cash trade-off for one person’s job. So we stay at home.

Numbers may vary depending on who I talk to, but Grand Beginnings, a county agency that supports early childhood programs, health and education, estimates there are 150 families in the county on waiting lists to enter early childhood. This number may be a bit inaccurate as waiting lists can last up to two years and during this time 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 childcare (read this to tell potential employees who left the county), there are other families that arrive to get back in line on the list. And the list goes on.

I know of a center in the Granby region that has 75 families on a waiting list. It’s true: 75 in one center.

I admit that I take a bit of a twisted approach to this aspect of child care in that I approach it from an economic and business perspective. The real and primary focus of this child care issue really should be child centered because experts know that investing in early childhood care provides a foundation in children’s lives that gives them a better sense of well-being, a greater chance of succeeding in life and school, and better health outcomes. Ultimately, this 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 well-being and the future of the child are the first priority. Plus, studies show that families who have affordable, high-quality child care for their children are a better workforce for today’s economy.

And yet we are failing a large part of our population because we cannot provide enough places for early childhood care. Our existing day care centers and preschools are doing a great job of helping to solve this problem. We are lucky to have what we have. But they cannot keep up with the demand due to the high cost of new facilities and the need for manpower to work with our youngest citizens.

All that brings me to this point. Currently, many communities in Grand County are working on workforce and affordable housing plans. It’s awesome. But these plans should incorporate new spaces for childcare into their design, as workforce housing and affordable housing should not be limited to rooms and apartments. It should be community-based and provide residents with support for family and community needs.

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

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free, confidential business management coaching to anyone looking to start or grow a business in the Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage”. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at [email protected].

Norma P. Rex