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Proposed Development Aims to Address ‘Childcare Desert’ in Routt County

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Local officials told Steamboat Springs City Council members Tuesday that Routt County is a “childcare desert.”

“The crux of the problem is we just don’t have enough licensed capacity for the amount of kids that we have,” said Routt County First Impressions Program Executive Director Meg Franges.

According to a local childcare assessment study completed in 2022, 42% of families with toddlers and 23% with infants in the county lack formal childcare services.

At the same time, certified childcare facilities in Routt County have capacity for 793 of the 1,035 children in the county under the age of five, according to the study performed by the county in collaboration with the Craig Scheckman Family Foundation and the Butler Institute for Families at the University of Denver.

Based on data collected in 2020, Franges noted the assessment “is a little bit out of date,” adding that the local childcare capacity figure is likely closer to 600.

“They are not informal care and that is because it just does not exist in our community,” Franges said.

A major factor behind the county’s capacity shortage stems from a finding that 88% of local childcare providers are not fully staffed or operating at their licensed capacity, an issue “compounded by lack of compensation and affordable housing,” Franges explained.

Under state law, childcare providers may operate out of their own homes, but four of those family childcare homes have closed in Routt County since 2020, and only seven remain in operation today.

“It’s no surprise because people don’t have houses,” Franges said. “You can’t have a family childcare home if you do not have a house conducive to doing so.”

The local housing shortage is also a problem for childcare providers’ employees, whom Franges said earn an hourly wage, on average, of about $20 in Routt County — compensation that is “at much lower than a livable wage for the county.”

But while childcare providers do not earn a livable wage, Routt County parents pay providers between $20,000 and $25,000 each year, per child — a considerable amount; but less than the actual daily cost of $150 assumed by the childcare providers for each pupil, explained Franges.

“Centers cannot charge that, nobody can afford that, so they have to subsidize,” she said. “Childcare is not a lucrative business — it’s a service and a necessary service for our community.”

The childcare needs assessment presentation came prior to Winnie DelliQuadri, Steamboat’s special projects and intergovernmental services manager, providing an update to council members over a proposed project in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Transportation to provide childcare services and workforce housing units in Steamboat.

While still in its early planning phases, the project would see the construction of 10 childcare classrooms and 36 housing units on land currently owned by CDOT, and located adjacent to the city’s community center.

DelliQuadri said eight of the proposed housing units would be dedicated to housing CDOT snowplow drivers, with the rest going to local childcare providers. Of the 10 proposed classrooms, eight would serve infant and toddlers and two would provide care for preschoolers.

A study performed by Colorado Springs-based Epic Consulting (initiated in the years prior to the childcare needs assessment presented by Franges) estimated the childcare shortage in Routt County causes a $9.9 million loss to the local economy each year.

“This has a huge economic impact on our community,” DelliQuadri said. “If people can’t work because we don’t have childcare, then the economy of our community suffers, the small businesses suffer. You have people that could work; that want to work; that can’t work because they have a small child.”

Although demand is increasing for their services, childcare businesses are not profitable, creating a dynamic whereby market forces alone will not see the creation of additional facilities in the future — and the county’s childcare gap will likely require local governments to subsidize the services to the tune of anywhere between $500,000 and $750,000 each year.

“Childcare is not an industry or business where you are going to be able to create a profit,” DelliQuadri said. “The strong message (from the study) was that if our community is going to get childcare, government is going to have to step to the table in some way, shape or form.”

Read the article by Trevor Ballantyne originally published for the Steamboat Pilot & Today here:
https://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/proposed-development-aims-to-address-childcare-desert-in-routt-county/

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