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There’s a Crisis in Our Communities—and We Better Start Stepping up to Solve It

By Betsy Barnett

April 12, 2024


It’s a topic that we’ve written about dozens of times. Why? Because it’s a problem that continues to plague our communities over and over again.

And the problem is getting worse—much worse—as the State continues to put more and more restrictions on the people in these rural communities within the newly developed Colorado Department of Early Childhood (CDEC).

CDEC was established on July 1, 2022, and since then the early childhood and preschool programs have been regulated so much that communities are losing providers at an alarming rate. In addition, the schools who have historically provided the 3-year-old and 4-year-old preschool programs are wondering if they will be able to hold on because the regulatory requirements along with an underfunded department has meant disaster for the early childhood programming in Colorado.

Before July of 2022, early childhood programming wasn’t great, but the early childcare rules and regulations were managed by the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services – which meant that people in our local Public Health offices were the ones helping with the childcare problem. At least we knew who we were dealing with and could trust that they weren’t there to strong-arm us.

Local control is a valuable thing indeed.

These days, the buffer for the people in the communities when it comes to all-things-childcare is assigned to non-profits that the state uses as consultants and who cover copious geographic miles and multiple counties. One of these buffer organizations is the Cheyenne-Kiowa-Lincoln Early Childhood Council (CKLECC) with an office in Limon.

Julie Witt, council coordinator for the CKLECC says, “The lack of childcare providers in our communities has arrived at a crisis level.”

Witt says that since she became the council coordinator in 2013 this region has gained one licensed childcare home—in Kit Carson—but has lost multiple homes that were previously licensed because the regulations became too much for everyday people to deal with. She notes that she’s had much interest from women over the years who would like to start a licensed home daycare but once she gives them all the requirements, she never hears from them again. Witt also says the large childcare centers, like the Little Leaders in Eads that closed their doors last year, are closing at an alarming rate across the state.

The reasons are varied but generally it’s because of state regulatory requirements when it comes to training, background checks, dietary requirements, and the low level of pay the childcare homes generate.

Witt should know as CKLECC serves as a buffer, or a provider of information, resources, and assistance, between the strong arm of the state agency coming out of Denver, and the local communities who have no idea what all the rules and regulations are but who know they are desperate to find a trustworthy provider who will care for their child(ren) when they work.

And who—in these communities—with the inflation costs rocketing out of sight—doesn’t have to work to make ends meet?

That’s the problem right there. People, especially young parents, have to work to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Everything costs too much not to work. And when the workers don’t—or can’t—work because they have no daycare the businesses in the community suffer.

Pretty soon, business is not taken care of because the employers can’t find the employees. Then the rest of us start noticing and wondering, “Why aren’t our services as good as they used to be?” or “Why has this business or that business closed their doors?” or “Why are our government offices closed more often?”—It’s because they can’t find the workers to do the work. The workers exist and have to work to survive—but they’re stuck at home without childcare.

What a vicious and damaging game of dominoes we are playing.

It used to be small towns had those nice ladies who loved children who would take in a half dozen children, sometimes more on a given day, to babysit while their parents worked. There were essentially enough kind-hearted caregivers to go around in a given community and somehow through the years the children were well cared for. The moms monitored the providers, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if the moms thought the daycare was substandard—well—then their child would not be there. It was market-based instead of government controlled and regulated.

Not anymore. These days, you’d have to be crazy to want to provide childcare in your home. Just ask Tanya Lane.

Tanya Lane has lived in Eads for many years. She and her husband Artie have raised their two girls in the community and now babysits her four grandchildren. Tanya has always been a caregiver. She worked at the childcare center downtown in the County-owned and operated daycare center before it closed. In that job she was trained in early childhood methods and skills and was dedicated enough to travel to Burlington for her classes. That center closed its doors when the Board of County Commissioners decided they had lost too much money and could not fund the daycare center anymore.

Tanya continued to work as a caregiver at Prairie Pines Assisted Living Facility in Eads. She’s a born caregiver and has a natural desire to want to help people, young or old, who need taken care of.

Tanya takes care of her grandchildren and sometimes her nephews and nieces who live in the community so that their parents can all go to their employment. Then she started getting occasional requests to take care of her friends’ children. She did so out of the kindness of her heart in order to help out because her friends were desperate for childcare. She looked into getting a home daycare license from the state, but the regulations and requirements she would have had to meet to be in compliance were too expensive and burdensome.

By last week Tanya Lane’s home had too many children there at one time, yes, but every parent loved the special care Lane gave their children and were 100% satisfied with her services. She didn’t make much money taking care of the children, and in fact lost money due to the ever-increasing cost of food. But Lane says she loves taking care of the children and she thought she was doing a good job.

The excessive number of kids at Tanya’s house was well-known by everyone in town including those who know what the state regulations are. But they felt it was under control and even some of those in the know had their children cared for by Tanya at least occasionally. It was a situation that worked and a number of young mothers, some single mothers, were able to make a living because of Tanya’s service.

But then some individual who was allowed to hide anonymously behind the digital firewall on the state’s webpage was able to make a complaint on Tanya that initiated a series of events that should make your rural blood boil.

Last week a car parked down the street from Tanya’s house and spent a couple of hours watching the house and the comings and goings of Tanya and the children. When the workday was over and the parents had collected their children for the day – including older children who came after school and Tanya’s own grandchildren—there were 11 children being cared for when the state came a-knockin’.

Although the people at the door who identified themselves as the licensing authority for the state of Colorado, were not state employees but rather from Goodwill Colorado, a non-profit organization (NGO) that was serving as consultants for the state. (Yes, THAT Goodwill—which garners another article perhaps).

The licensing agent and a trainee asked Lane many questions about the property and informed her of the many ways she was out of compliance. They told Lane that she had been turned in anonymously and they verified by watching the house that she is caring for too many children. They then demanded that she stop keeping any children who were not family immediately and handed her a document listing the various penalties she could suffer if she did not. That was on Tuesday.

That night numerous mothers were told they no longer had full or partial daycare. Panic set in as they all scrambled to find someone to watch their children before the workday the next morning.

And speaking of the next day, on Wednesday the same “Goodwill” ladies were back at Tanya’s house in their car—this time parked in the alley. Tonya still had her grandchildren and some other family members and according to a regulatory handout given to her the day before she was in compliance. But those watching the house did not know the children were family and called the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office asking for Civil Standby while they presented her with a Cease & Desist order. They indicated to Tanya that they had counted the cars and the kids and saw too many kids in the home again. Lane had to provide car descriptions for all her relatives, and kid information such as age and sex in order to be cleared and C&D order nulled.

According to Lane, the next day, Thursday, at 6:15 in the morning, they were parked in a third strategic location near her home in order to be assured that the cars and kids coming to the home for the day matched the family information.

And we wonder why no one wants to have anything to do with the State of Colorado.

When the Independent asked Tanya if she would mind telling her story she agreed. When she arrived at our office all the parents who lost their daycare provider showed up too—with their kids in tow. When they came into the Independent’s offices the children, who hadn’t seen each other since the State enforcement had occurred, ran to each other and hugged and then danced around Tanya wanting her attention. There was no doubt these children had been well cared for.

The mothers had plenty to say as they have been scrambling to find daycare for their children since the incident. Some ended up sending their kids back and forth to Lamar, one had to take their child to Holly and leave them there with a grandparent until the weekend, still others had to call employers and tell them they could not come to work because they had no one to watch their child. One mother just decided it wasn’t worth fighting anymore and will stay home full time. They were angry and disappointed and full of anxiety trying to understand and then deal with the situation they were put in.

One of the biggest fallouts is the response from the rest of the community. Some women who may have agreed to help out in the situation are now shying away in fear.

Yes, it is certainly a crisis we have going on here in our community and if we want our young people, who are the lifeblood of any community, to stay and prosper here then we had better figure out how to help them do so.

Many ideas have been passed around and the communities—all of the small communities—have at one time or another tried various solutions. Eads has had two large daycare centers fail after a lot of people put in a lot of time, money, and effort into those projects.

We’ve written about ideas where the schools or the larger employers develop a licensed home or center. Those are few and far between and take a lot of resources rural Colorado does not have. But maybe this could be an option. It will take dedicated leaders willing to cut through all the red tape.

Another option might be for the community to encourage people to open their homes to the Friends, Family and Neighbors program where four children, no more than 2 under two years of age, can be cared for without penalty and then keep a community list of those types of providers.

There are not many solutions and Tanya Lane’s case puts a spotlight on a lot of problems. For instance, why is it that a person can make an anonymous report to the state and the fallout from it victimizes the caregiver as well as all the families and children involved. The ability to do that without being able to face the accuser creates distrust among our population that no amount of incentives will cure.

In the big picture, isn’t it better to let the local communities solve these issues. Rural communities have special issues that big city legislators just make worse. Local control with less regulation and allowing the market to dictate the climate is the answer, and every caregiver like Tanya Lane should have a community ready to provide support for the care our children deserve and the help our young families must have.

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