As lack of accessible youngster care worsens amid COVID-19, employers are known as on to help working households

Timberline Learning Center co-teacher Leah Tharp will be playing with Forest Dineen at Breckenridge Preschool on Friday, January 8th. After the shutdown of COVID-19 in March 2020, daycare centers were only allowed to reopen on May 11, 2020. Many waited until June to open.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

The Summit’s Chamber of Commerce held a meeting on Thursday, February 11th to discuss the childcare issues Summit County is facing and possible solutions.

The Chamber’s Executive Director Blair McGary pointed to the lack of consistent, affordable childcare in the community, which has only worsened as a result of the pandemic. Nicole Riehl, President and CEO of Colorado Nonprofit Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, spoke about how employers can help their employees manage childcare.

McGary stated that childcare, the local workforce and the economy are all interconnected. She noted that while the community had problems with childcare prior to the pandemic, it only worsened.

“We know that childcare has long been an issue in our community that has only just been highlighted by the pandemic, as the impact on our workforce has been utterly devastating,” said McGary. “With quarantines and distance learning, school closings, there were many obstacles our workforce had to overcome, and childcare was certainly one of those obstacles.”

McGary noted that the community recognizes the economic impact of childcare and has invested in early childhood education by providing voter-approved funding for affordable childcare services. She said that while this helped, there was still a lack of local childcare, which resulted in people dropping out of the workforce. Explaining the importance of early childhood development beyond childcare needs, Riehl noted that while there are 1,310 children under the age of 5 in Summit County, only 830 licensed childcare places prior to the pandemic. With different capacity limits over the last year, the number of slots may have been reduced.

“Our economic development really begins with early childhood development,” said Riehl. “We know that early childhood offers one of the best returns on investment we can get from investing our dollars publicly. Children with high quality early learning and early childhood experiences have advanced degrees, a greater propensity for self-sufficiency and economic mobility in the future, and greater professional success. “

Riehl noted the economic impact of a lack of childcare. She said that according to a study conducted by the Council for a Strong America, 79% of parents reported negative effects on their efforts or commitments at work due to childcare issues. Summit County’s annual revenue, productivity and revenue loss of $ 13.6 million has been reported as a result of shortages in caring for infants and young children.

Catherine Schaaf, program director of Early Childhood Options, listed the challenges the pandemic has brought, including outbreaks closings, teachers running classrooms under pandemic restrictions and increased hygiene requirements, and parents working from home with young children have to work. She also noted the high cost of quality childcare, which is around $ 1,600 per month for infant and toddler care five days a week. Schaaf added that 35% of families with children ages 0-5 receive tuition support through various local and state programs, including Summit Head Start and the Colorado Preschool Program. While childcare was already expensive, Schaaf found that daycare has become even more expensive to run due to COVID-19.

“The majority of the (childcare companies) are non-profit organizations,” said Schaaf. “They have seen higher operating costs due to closings, quarantines and additional paid time off, as well as increased pandemic supplies.”

Unsurprisingly, childcare enrollment declined due to closings, but the centers have struggled to return to full capacity due to the availability of teachers, a challenge due to both quarantines and a general shortage of local labor . Schaaf found that 11 of the 14 local centers are currently fully utilized again.

Riehl listed a few things employers can do to help their employees manage childcare responsibilities, including minor things like allowing schedule flexibility and creating a culture that supports working families.

“For many executives we know that it may not be a time when a company can invest in childcare solutions,” said Riehl. “Maybe this is something you will think about later from an investment perspective, but there are some simple what I call ‘quick wins’ that we can talk about that employers can make sure they are doing their best to support their employees to keep it and make sure it is a supportive environment. “

Prior to the pandemic, Riehl said it was considered taboo for an employee to take their child to the office, but with kids showing up on Zoom calls, kids in the workplace have normalized. She said that the company’s managers should be clear about how special accommodations for working families are being handled when it comes to performance reviews, and that parents may be afraid to ask for accommodations if they are concerned that it will be negatively evaluated Line. Riehl also said companies should regularly seek employee feedback and ideas on how to manage childcare.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, one participant asked what options are there for small businesses that want to take an active role in supporting childcare but cannot afford to build their own facility. Riehl suggested a partnership with a local childcare facility in which the company supported the center financially to create slots for its own employees.

“To keep the workforce, people want to know that they can live (in Summit County),” said Riehl. “When you have someone considering a position, and you can say, ‘We’ve partnered with a local early childhood program, we’ve reserved slots, and we’re willing to pay X percent of the cost of childcare. “This is still a huge plus for many families and can make up for other expenses that we know they will have. On the other hand, private sector investment and the involvement of employers and companies to support access to childcare also help our early education companies. “

McGary concluded by realizing that the burden of childcare usually rests with the worker. However, rethinking and encouraging employers to take on some responsibility could help meet childcare needs in the community.

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