Eagle County Board of Commissioners: Investing in child care is crucial | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Board of Commissioners: Investing in child care is crucial

Jeanne McQueeney, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Matt Scherr
Valley Voices

“Infrastructure” is most often defined as the physical structures and facilities critical for the operation of a society or enterprise, and we take our role in creating and maintaining Eagle County’s roads, bridges and buildings seriously. We know that just as important is creating and maintaining our workforce infrastructure, including housing, transit, health care, and child care.

For Eagle County to thrive, we must attract and retain a high-quality workforce, and that begins with ensuring our infrastructure is strong. In fact, two of our strategic plan goals align directly with workforce support: “Eagle County is a great place to live for all” and “Eagle County promotes a diverse and resilient economy.”

While there is still a lot of progress to be made in all areas of workforce infrastructure, recent partnerships, planned projects and legislative changes are helping to move the needle on transit, housing and health care.

However, investment in the availability and cost of quality child care continues to lag. Today, there are only 44 licensed child care options in Eagle County. That’s not nearly enough to serve the estimated 4,300 children under 5 and their families living in Eagle County.

The concern is being felt throughout our county. Two years ago, the Vail Valley Partnership added the availability of child care to the list of issues it asked its membership to rank. In this year’s VVP Business Retention & Expansion Report, employers ranked child care last in available community services. And in the Roaring Fork Valley, community members, nonprofits and businesses have been collaborating for many years on solutions to increase child care and early childhood education opportunities, to support workforce infrastructure.

Studies and surveys show the availability of quality child care can help our local businesses attract and retain a workforce that is present, prepared and productive. Without reliable and affordable access to child care and early childhood education options, parents tend to miss work, lowering household incomes and potentially leading to job loss. And when parents are forced to choose to stay home rather than returning to work after the birth of a child, it diminishes the available workforce and makes it harder for employers to adequately staff their businesses.

Increasing the number of quality programs in our communities also helps our families stay in Eagle County, rather than moving to seek more affordable, accessible options elsewhere. Most programs have long waiting lists, between nine months to a year, with children added before they’re born. Infant and toddler care can cost more per year than university tuition in Colorado. These factors can drive young professionals to move away.

Finally, quality early childhood care and education options help create a more educated and capable workforce. Children who have access to early childhood education are more likely to do well in school, earn higher wages, live healthier lives and give back to their community.

We are exploring the best ways to increase the availability of quality child care and continue to build our workforce infrastructure. By alleviating some of the pressures felt by employees, we ultimately benefit every resident, business and visitor to our community.

As we tackle this important issue, we look forward to hearing from you. To learn more, and to share your own story and experiences, please visit http://www.ourmtnfamilies.org.

Jeanne McQueeney, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Matt Scherr are Eagle County commissioners. Contact them at jeanne.mcqueeney@eaglecounty.us, kathy.chandlerhenry@eaglecounty.us and matt.scherr@eaglecounty.us.