Over this past summer I have come to understand, even more than I did as a young working mother, how important—not just important but more of a priority—it is that communities find a way to provide quality childcare. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s when I worked full time, and on any given day needed daycare for at least three children, if not four, it was a constant battle of finding care providers, but even more so, finding QUALITY care providers. I, like so many mothers of that era, was able to enroll my older boys in the Kiddie Corral, which was operated by Ruthanna Jacobs out of her home on Slater Street in Eads. Ruthanna was an educator who had never married and had opened her home to dozens and dozens of Eads children over many years. We didn’t know how lucky we were.
When the Kiddie Corral finally closed its doors, I believe the other mothers, like myself, struggled mightily to put together enough childcare to cover the bulk of the hours required. Finally, thankfully, I found a quality and loving home daycare that I stuck with until all the children were old enough to be in school. Those were often years of uncertainty and, as I recall, most of my paycheck went to paying for childcare—and insurance—in that order.
But this summer’s experience with caring for our grandsons in Wray (ages 2 years and 6 months), while their parents were in the biggest fight of their young lives in Denver, gave me an even deeper appreciation of the importance of a community coming together to provide quality childcare. The Wray community is special as it supports a full childcare center that is actually planning to expand in the near future. This center cares for infants, toddlers, playschool, and PreK children every weekday, Monday-Friday from 7am (sometimes earlier) to 5pm (sometimes later). One thing is a certainty—the Wray Community Learning Center was a Godsend for us as we were able to take the boys to them during the day while we did our best to help out at the home with mowing, cleaning, laundry, and the endless list of chores needed to be completed when caring for one’s home and children.
We will give a substantial donation to the Wray Community Learning Center this year. It’s a 501c3 non-profit organization that can take up to 70 kids—and still has a long waiting list. It is considered a large center under the Colorado childcare regulations that are arduous and oftentimes hindering. However, the Wray community continues to financially support the fundraising efforts of this organization as they understand the importance of providing a quality childcare center in their community. Wray’s Community Learning Center is a success story because it enjoys the full support of the community.
I mention all this to add my sentiments of disappointment with many in our community when I learned the Little Leaders Childcare Center in Eads was indeed closing its doors for good and is in the process of selling or giving away all the beautiful classroom and playground equipment that they had worked so hard to acquire. It’s a damn shame, what the world’s come to (sing it Oliver Anthony). Come on, Eads, you’re better than that!
Obviously, the board at Little Leaders did Herculean work in first creating the childcare center, getting it licensed and up and operating, just to see It forced to close when the workforce requirements and regulatory red tape via Governor Polis and the Early Childhood Division at the state level became too big of a burden to continue. The end of the Little Leaders leaves Eads families with little options for childcare and no licensed options that would allow the county to use the some $50,000 in Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) funds. The CCCAP funds must be used in licensed home daycare facilities or childcare centers only—something we no longer have. “Good-bye $50,000—back to the state coffers—we can’t use you.”
Perhaps, readers of this column will think I’m probably reacting too harshly to the fact that Little Leaders is forced to liquidate their beautiful center. Some will think that what we still have is adequate for Eads. Thankfully, we do have a smattering of homes that will take in children, but they aren’t licensed because they don’t want to deal with the regulatory monster that comes with getting a license—namely having the behemoth state bureaucracy breathing down their necks. Who could blame them? Maybe they are enough of a solution for a community like Eads.
In fact, there are only four licensed daycare homes in the entire region consisting of Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Lincoln counties—including two in Cheyenne Wells, one in Kit Carson, and one in Hugo—none in Eads or Limon. There are no licensed centers within these three counties.
But I would argue that if we want to attract good families, strong families, professional families to our community we have to rethink this childcare problem. Every week, the paper is filled with classified employment ads for the schools and hospital and governments—the big three employers of the county—and they all tell us it is super hard to recruit—and then retain—good employees. One reason? There’s no quality childcare available for new people moving in, let alone the ones who have been out of the workforce for some time because of the lack of childcare—subsidized or otherwise.
There may be some cause for hope, however. There are two examples of successful childcare in rural Colorado/Kansas that might be duplicated in a community like Eads. They both focus on employee provided childcare. Both are functioning within communities the size of Eads with good success, and according to their leadership, have no intensions of closing their doors as they have stumbled upon a win-win solution for their community.
The first concept is found in Tribune, Kansas in a group daycare home known as Little Docs Daycare. It is a daycare home—not center—owned and operated by the Greeley County Hospital. This childcare home originated because the hospital was having trouble retaining good employees, dealing with absenteeism because their employees didn’t have childcare on a given day, and recruitment deficiencies because many possible candidates turned them down as there was no daycare available.
According to Katy Reynolds, hospital Chief Operating Officer, “The Little Docs Daycare center has come a long way in solving the issue we were having with staffing quality people. And we provide our employees with discounted childcare at Little Docs as an additional employment benefit.” Reynolds explained that the daycare home is considered a department of the hospital and the director of the home is the department head or manager. That person, just like any department head, is expected to have strong scheduling skills as well as the ability to organize required job training, do the paperwork to stay in compliance, as well as seeking grant opportunities to help with the bottom line.
The home daycare center is located in a house owned by the hospital, and its employees are hired by the hospital receiving all the benefits of an employee including a good salary and health insurance benefits. The licensed daycare is a home and not a center which is a big distinction when it comes to training requirements. The daycare home can have up to 12 children in general terms with an ever-changing combination of infants, toddlers, and PreK. Since January, the home has grown and can now take some children from the community in addition to providing quality childcare for the hospital’s employees who require it.
Another idea for quality childcare comes from Flagler, Colorado where the school is now providing a Daycare Center within the school building. This center has to follow the Colorado Early Childhood big center regulations that are pounded out and diligently followed daily by Preschool teacher and Childcare Director Katy Koehn. Katie has an early childhood degree and a director’s license and has to be on site in the childcare center. Since she is the Preschool teacher, it made sense to bring the childcare center to her.
Flagler’s childcare center first offers childcare for infants, toddlers, and PreK children to school employees as a priority, but is also able to supply childcare for community parents in need as well. Currently, according to Katie, the Flagler childcare center can take up to 5 infants, 5 toddlers, and 20 PreK children into their program. Katie is in charge of training, staff recruitment, and funding for the center. However, it also is accounted for through the school budget and the employees are paid by the school receiving the typical benefits provided by the school—plus they get discounted childcare right in the same building where they work.
In their second year of operation, Koehn says, “It is a big job but I’m passionate about making it work. We are also able to start training high school students—getting them enough hours on the job—during open hours of their school schedule. It has been so successful that other schools are calling and asking how they can get one started in their school.”
First you have to have a person as driven as a Katy Reynolds or a Katie Koehn who solved problems, one after another, as they were presented. Then you have to have a board that is open to putting skin in the game. Finally, you have to have a community that understands that it is in their best interest to find a way to support quality childcare so that their community families already here can flourish and the ones that might want to come can find a solution to their childcare needs.
I think we might have those ingredients here in Eads. I just hope, in the very near future, we can start cooking up some plans.