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Why kids, families need funding

Kate Forinash
Vail CO, Colorado

Over the past few weeks, I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca about early childhood programs. While I sincerely respect his opinion on the issue, I feel compelled to speak to his selective use of information regarding the early childhood proposal and current levels of service for children and families.

The proposed five-year early childhood strategic plan is clear about goals, needs, outcomes, program efforts, and costs. It is this detail and clarity that focuses discussion about the value of our children and families and just how much should we invest in efforts that will result in healthy, competent, caring, educated members of our society.

Let’s clarify the needs:

– We are not meeting the needs of working families for child care. Our current licensed child-care capacity meets only 19 percent of the need for infant and toddler care; only 50 percent of the need for preschool care; and only 35 percent of the need for after-school care.

– We are not meeting the needs of children for quality care. Only 7 percent of our early childhood teachers have a degree in early childhood. Teacher turnover rates range from 37 percent to 54 percent. Children need qualified and consistent caregivers.

– We are not meeting the needs for affordable child care. Most working families spend as much on child care as on housing.

– We are not meeting the needs for health care. One in four of our families is uninsured and lacks a consistent health-care provider. Nearly one in four third-graders have untreated tooth decay.

– We are not reaching children at risk of developmental delays. Child health screenings are reaching only one in seven of the children at-risk with early intervention services. Ten percent of the school-aged population receive special education services.

– We have children and families at risk of family breakdown and violence in our community. The Health and Human Services Department receives about 250 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect each year regarding children under the age of 9. These children may have been left alone, may be ill-fed, ill-clothed, may not be seeing a doctor when they are ill, may be physically mistreated, may be withdrawn in school, may be violent with other children. There are as many unique situations of risk as there are children who come to our attention too late.

The “confirmed” reports are those situations where there is confirmed evidence of serious neglect and abuse, where the ongoing safety of the child is in jeopardy.

The Early Childhood Initiative on the November ballot asked for a 1.5 mill-levy increase that would result in approximately $3.6 million a year over 15 years for “improving the quality, availability, and affordability of early childhood services and facilities.”

The Early Childhood Initiative was based on an 18-month study of needs and gaps in service conducted by a 100-member community task force. The community task force not only measured needs, it proposed proven programs that would close gaps and produce effective outcomes for children and families. The task force estimated the cost of those programs. That estimate is how the Early Childhood Initiative came up with the 1.5-mill-levy request for additional funds.

When the ballot initiative did not succeed at the polls, the Early Childhood Council tackled the development of a five-year plan to close the gaps in these services. The plan was presented to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration on Feb. 20.

The Eagle County Early Childhood strategic plan is based goals for our county’s children and families for quality early care and development, access to health care, and programs to support parents and caregivers in meeting the needs of their children.

This plan includes what could be accomplished in 2007 by building on current community resources. The plan also suggests steps for subsequent years.

The 2007 early childhood proposal focuses on maintaining our current child-care capacity, providing incentives for teacher education and quality care, and reaching children and families at risk of developmental issues or potential child abuse and neglect at an earlier age. Incremental increases in these program efforts were estimated to grow from an annual cost in 2007 of $1,643,840 to an annual cost in 2011 of $3,195,290. Other potential programs, like family violence prevention, do not carry a cost estimate because they represent a collaborative approach to an issue through the Early Childhood Council member organizations ” much like the integration of family literacy components into all early childhood programs.

The five-year plan included a proposal for the construction of four infant toddler centers ” each caring for 80 children ” over a four-year period. Each center is estimated to cost $2.5 million, plus land. Funding for the construction of child-care centers could be supported by partnerships with towns, employers, private funders, and child care providers. It is the construction of these much-needed child-care centers that drives half of the five-year projected cost for a comprehensive early childhood effort throughout Eagle County.

Eagle County’s current early childhood programs include: Early Head Start, the Women Infant and Children’s nutrition program, prenatal care, child-care assistance for low-income working families, and some grants to providers for child-care capacity and quality. These programs represent state and federal programs in early childhood and are primarily funded by special grants to the county. In 2006, the total cost of these programs was $1,474,132. In 2007, the total cost of these programs is budgeted at $1,473,718. The county’s share of these programs increased from $337,105 in 2006 to $423,476 in 2007 ” that is the 25 percent increase in current programs to which Butch refers. Federal and state funding for these programs is limited. The county has assumed the additional inflationary costs for staff merit increases, health insurance, transportation, and other nonpersonnel expenses.

Current early childhood programs at Health and Human Services did not receive additional staff in the 2007 budget.

Eagle County’s current child welfare programs address families with reported child abuse and neglect. Child welfare services are primarily funded through state and federal sources ” $816,323 out of the $991,149 budget for 2007 are state and federal dollars. Increased county efforts for intervention and treatment of reported child abuse and neglect will continue to be leveraged with state and federal dollars and are not included in the community early childhood proposal. The commissioners have approved an additional professional social caseworker position in 2008.

We have shared extensive details on the county’s financial and program help for services with children and families with all who have inquired. We have shared the details of the proposed five-year plan for early childhood in public hearings and in the press.

The Board of County Commissioners will make a decision regarding the first year of the early childhood proposal sometime in the next few weeks. Please make your voices heard to the commissioners, and to your neighbors.

Kate Forinash is the director of the Eagle County Health and Human Services Department and a co-chair of the Eagle County Early Childhood Council.


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