Need seen for early childhood activities
EAGLE COUNTY – Being a parent isn’t easy, just ask Wendi Hollenbeck.Sometimes all she needs is a place to drop off her 16-month-old for a few hours while she runs errands. But for all the talk about the need for day-long child care in Eagle County, there are very few places to do that. Finding a play group for her daughter took a while, too. “I finally found one,” she said. “It would be nice if there were some sort of data base for that.”These are the kind of suggestions county leaders want. They, along with a host of school, youth recreation and health care professionals, are beginning a year-long study to find out what would make Eagle County a better place for young children. The goal of the study is to come up with a list of programs and resources needed to help young children and their parents, as well as a price tag for accomplishing that.Parent input is important for the study’s success, said Kathleen Forinash, director of the county’s health and human services department. “The outcome will be a strategic plan that can serve as a blueprint for community efforts in early childhood,” Forinash said. “In addition to compiling information, we will host meetings with parents to hear their most pressing issues.”
Help in need of improvementFrom health care for low-income children to parenting classes, there already are programs in Eagle County that address some of those issues. Part of the problem is that many residents don’t know about them, said Susie Davis, who works with underprivileged youth through the Eagle County Youth Foundation. Low-income parents frequently are more aware of the help out in the community because they already are part of the state’s welfare system, she said. But sometimes programs intended to assist parents are insufficient because of other factors, said Jill Hunsaker, a public health nurse for the county. For example, children of low-income families receive state-subsidized health insurance. But there are few doctors in Eagle County that will take patients with that insurance, she said. Those patients usually head to the Eagle Care Medical Clinic, a department of the Vail Valley Medical Center that is specifically for uninsured or underinsured residents. “But they are just one clinic,” Hunsaker said.
Parents’ concernsHollenbeck owns The Art Factory in Edwards, which essentially works like a drop-off center for moms and dads looking for a few hours to themselves from time to time. Children enrolled in classes at The Art Factory spend their time doing art projects under with the business’s teachers. Still, Hollenbeck said, few people know about her business. “It’s really hard to get the word out about things like that,” she said. Some of the parents who take their kids to The Art Factory agreed.Having a centrally located place to get information on kids programs would help, said Julie Kiddoo, an Eagle-Vail resident with a 2-year-old son. “There’s not enough opportunities for young children,” Kiddoo said. A children’s museum or some other kind of learning center for young kids would be popular with parents, she said. Using the local media to get the word out to local parents and tourists with kids could help, said Amy Tonazzi, who has a daughter just short of 3.
Marni Betz said there are plenty of things for kids to do here. Her biggest concern? The quality of local schools. “We just haven’t heard the greatest things,” she said. Parental supportSometimes parents just need help in parenting, but in a non-condescending way, said Diane Johnson, youth services supervisor for the Vail Recreation District. Davis and Johnson attended a meeting last week to talk about the early childhood study. There is a stigma associated with parents who sign up for parenting class, Johnson said. “It’s OK for parents to understand they can ask for help,” she said. Kiddoo also suggested more programs to help new parents. After her son was born, she attended a weekly class for the first three months that dealt with topics like feeding and bathing an infant. But after that, “you are pretty much on your own,” she said. Balancing work and family is a dilemma for many residents, because in most families both parents work, Davis said. That’s why business owners – many of whom are men – need to be a part of this discussion, she said. As evidence of that gender split, of all the professionals who attend last week’s meeting to start the study, not one was male. “It’s really interesting that this is such a gender-specific issue,” Davis said.
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.===================================================What kids wantFor more information on the Early Childhood Community Initiative, contact Kathleen Forinash, Eagle County’s health and human services director, at 328-8858 or email@example.com.==================================================== Vail, Colorado