Child-care workers may get college aid
EAGLE COUNTY- Can giving child-care workers incentives to earn a degree in early childhood education help solve the child-care dilemma some parents face in Eagle County?Pitkin County help its child-care workers with education expenses, and Eagle County is planning a similar program in which child-care workers would get grants to attend college. Eagle County Commissioners are expected to vote on the program, along with other initiatives for young children, within the next three weeks.”We have been doing this program for five years, and we have had about 70 percent of our child care workforce apply and receive this incentive,” said Shirley Ritter, director of Kid’s First, which serves Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin Counties. “Of those who have or are participating, about 20 percent have been given promotions based on the credits they’ve earned and their time on the job.”Participants in Pitkin County program can receive as little as $100 for earning six college credits and as much as $3,500 for getting a master’s degree. The money is paid to the employee every six months.The Eagle County program, if approved by the commissioners, would offer the same benefits. Receiving an education and the possibility of advancement is something Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Forinash hopes will translate into better care for kids and new employees for local child-care providers. “The basic issue is that we want to be able to have quality and consistent care for children, and in order to get that we need to have people get training and education,” Forinash said. “Kids do better when they have the same caregiver throughout their early years of their life. It teaches them about relationships, security and how to form bonds.”After 17 years working in child care, Kathy Reed, sub-director of Pooh Corner Preschool in Minturn, said money for college can translate into retaining employees.”There is quite a shortage of workers,” Reed said. “There’s a lot of entry-level people but we need more than just baby sitters and more people that can provide children with advanced skills for life.”The financial incentives Pooh Corner offers for education only cover a fraction of the cost for schooling, but the help does keep employees there, Reed said.”Most people in charge of child-care centers know the need for financial incentives for education,” she said.
The turnover rate for childcare workers in Eagle County is currently 37 percent, and only 7 percent of caregivers have a degree in early-childhood education, Forinash said. The county hopes to triple the amount of educated child-care employees in five years, and drastically reduce the turnover rate.The estimated cost to help child-care workers continue their education’s is $168,400 per year, but the benefits are invaluable, Ritter said.Not only are the highly-educated the most desired people to take care of our youngest children, but these are workers who are only making $12 an hour to start for doing a job with very long hours, little recognition, difficult tasks and all for very little pay, she said.Employers also will build stable work forces if wages are increased, Ritter said.If you have someone earning less than $25,000 a year making $12 an hour, its unimaginable to think how they can afford to live in this community, Forinash said. We pay those who work with our most vulnerable group of citizens the least amount possible. They cant afford to go to college without the incentive, and we cant afford to have them keep leaving their jobs. State-funded programs often are not available to county residents. There are currently 50 children from 30 families receiving money from the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program. A family of four must earn less than $3,083 per month in gross income to be eligible for the Colorado Child care Assistance Program, or $36,996 a year.The median Eagle County household income is $62,682, but the average cost for a year of childcare is $10,400 per child. The average family has two children.
Education incentives for child-care workers were included as part of a property tax increase that voters rejected in the November election. The Early Childhood Council developed a “strategic plan” to present to the county commissioners to tackle the issues that still surround child-care in Eagle County, hoping the money could be found in the budget.”I don’t think voters don’t want quality childcare, I think they just wanted us to use the budget,” Forinash said. “The need is there, and it’s not going away, so we need to do something about it.”The problem is nurses, teachers, social workers and employees in other female-dominated professions are leaving the county because of the expense and lack of quality childcare, Forinash said.”We need to ask ourselves what kind of environment do we want to live in,” Forinash said. “Healthy communities have diversity, people of all income levels and people of all ages. If we become a community where only the wealthy and retired can afford to live, what kind of community will we have?”In Eagle County, nearly two-thirds of the women in the workforce have children, making this more of a social issue than a personal one, Forinash said. The Pitkin County workforce is similar, and Ritter said she hopes people can relate the child-care need to their lives.”Think about the woman at the grocery store, the shops you frequent, the bank, the movie theater, or any of the places you frequent, and then think about how life would be if they weren’t there to do the jobs you need them to do,” Ritter said. “Then think about the men who are married to those women leaving the county too because they can’t afford to live here without two incomes.”Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.