Roles businesses play in childcare benefits |

Roles businesses play in childcare benefits

by Kimberly Nicoletti

Peter Siegel, executive director of Copper Mountain Resort Chamber, created employee child care 17 years ago at Copper, responding to what he saw as a “huge need.”

Since then, the need for child care has only grown. Child care facilities in Summit and Eagle counties have waiting lists, which sometimes lag a year or more. But not many businesses take on the challenge of providing child care benefits ” beyond flexible spending accounts, which allow parents to pay daycare expenses with pre-taxed dollars. And there’s good reason businesses don’t open facilities.

“It’s really expensive,” Siegel said. “As an independent business, if you think you’re going to make money at it ” it’s better to look at value in other benefits.”

St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver once offered child care, “but it was way too expensive,” said spokeswoman Bev Lilly. As a result, there haven’t been discussions to institute such benefits at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.

Daycare also comes with increased risks associated with taking care of children properly.

“A business has to have the right space, good supervision, excellent employees. It’s not an easy (endeavor),” Siegel said.

Copper Mountain’s Pumpkin Patch found that out when it faced allegations of child abuse in April. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office determined that the accused staff members’ actions were not abusive, but the state suspended the facility’s license. The Pumpkin Patch is appealing the ruling.

The facility gives discounts to Copper employees, and its convenient location helps retain employees, Siegel said. Copper also offers child care subsidies within the community.

“The investment Copper spends to offer these programs is well worth what we gain back in employee loyalty and retention,” said Lauren Pelletreau, a Copper spokesperson, adding that such benefits help recruit quality employees, and those that raise children in the community are more likely to put down roots and grow with the resort.

Breckenridge Ski Resort also gives employees discounts at its facilities. Vail Resorts’ employee child care in Avon offers employees in Eagle County reduced-fee care as well.

But in general, businesses leave child care to facilities that specialize in it.

Still, many larger companies support community child care centers financially. Grand Timber Lodge in Breckenridge donates 5 percent of every dollar spent through its Merchants Program to local preschools. Vail Resorts provides support through capital contributions or partnering with fundraisers.

“Child care is really important in the community,” said Pat Campbell, chief operating officer at Keystone. “It’s critical to us to be able to hire and retain employees.”

However, she believes it’s better for children in the community to mix together for social and development opportunities, rather than stay at a company’s facility.

The Summit Chamber, Breckenridge Resort Chamber and Vail Valley Partnership say child care benefits within businesses aren’t top priorities, in terms of what directors hear as concerns from business owners, employees. However, all support child care in one form or another. The Summit Chamber supported the Early Childhood Education initiative with funds, and the Vail Valley Partnership is researching other chambers that offer group child care benefits, said Monica McCafferty, the organization’s spokeswoman.

“(Child care benefits) don’t seem like a common thing businesses provide up here, but it would be a big benefit if an employer did,” said Carly Grimes, the public relations director of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.

Ginny Vietti, director of marketing at Grand Timber Lodge in Breckenridge, said it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, even though not many businesses nationwide address it. When Pumpkin Patch shut down temporarily, a friend of hers decided that working wasn’t worth the high price of other child care.

Martha Meier, executive director of the Carriage House in Breckenridge, sees a small percentage of people choosing to stay home rather than work because of child care issues. More often, she sees people simply move out of the county or work part time.

Still, 90 percent of women in Summit County work at least part time, said Patty Cruz, Families United manager.

The program helps some families with partial tuition for day care, but Cruz said it’s hard to qualify for assistance, and centers sometimes don’t want to take the kids because they pay a lower rate.

“We need more child care here. Everything is full, and it’s expensive,” she said, adding that she put her name on a waiting list in Frisco when she was pregnant and didn’t get her son in until he was 1 year old. “Parents get stressed. Sometimes people find another job, (so one spouse works during the day and the other at night).”

Some employers try to be flexible with employees’ child care issues. For example, Cruz’s supervisor allowed her to bring her son to work until he began crawling; then a family member watched him. Vietti allows her employees flexible work hours if they have a sick child or another emergency.

“We’re relatively flexible in working with families because we’re a family-run business,” Vietti said.

“Whenever an employer can provide benefits to assist families, it will lead to greater employee retention and loyalty,” Pelletreau said. “As child care costs increase, so does the importance of employers finding ways to assist families and helping them to continue to live in and strengthen our community.”

However, Kim DiLallo, the director of communications for Breckenridge, thinks communities as a whole ” as opposed to businesses ” should take the brunt of responsibility. The town is building its own facility, in partial response to Kinderhut’s closing in April 2008. It hopes to open its center by then. DiLallo isn’t sure if town employees will get a discount, but currently, they get lower rates for kids’ care and activities at the Breckenridge Recreation Center.

“The town has been very concerned about (child care). It’s quite a big void in our community,” she said. “I think we’re coming together as a community rather than relying on employers to solve it.”

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