The early childhood community in Larimer County has long been aware of the increasing shortage of child care options in Larimer County. Our lack of adequate child care affects employers in all industries across Larimer County, as parents cannot work when they do not have safe and stable care for their children.
In early 2018, three local groups (Be Ready, Directing Change and the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County) collaborated to write a white paper on this issue, A Workforce Strategy and Major Economic Driver: Child Care in Larimer County. As a result of the recommendations in the paper, we have joined forces with the Talent 2.0: Regional Workforce Strategy (Fort Collins-Loveland Metro Area) partners to form the Talent 2.0 Child Care Task Force. Hosted by the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, this Task Force is made up of business, economic development and child care industry leaders who will meet over the next six months to delve into this issue and consider multiple strategies to move forward.
As the Talent 2.0: Regional Workforce Strategy report identified, lack of access to quality child care, along with affordable housing and transportation, are the primary challenges to meeting the growing workforce needs in our county. These issues are complex. The white paper, A Workforce Strategy and Major Economic Driver: Child Care in Larimer County highlighted these two primary barriers for families seeking to find child care so they can work:
1) COST OF CHILD CARE: Families in Larimer County can expect to pay approximately $12,000 per year for each child needing care, although it may vary depending on the age of the child and the type of care chosen. Families paying for care have less to spend on housing, transportation and the other costs of living. A family with the Larimer County median income of $64,919 and two children under 5, spends 37% of their pre-tax income to cover child care costs. This steep cost is directly correlated with spousal retention in the workforce, as families often reach the conclusion that it makes more economic sense for one parent to stay home while the children are young. Re-employment after time off caring for children can also result in under-employment.
2) COMMUNITY CAPACITY: With the expanding workforce in Larimer County, the gap between demand for and supply of licensed child care is increasing. The shortage is most acute for infant care, with availability estimated at 25% of demand. For preschool age care, availability of licensed care is estimated at 60% of demand.
The solutions are not simple. As A Workforce Strategy and Major Economic Driver: Child Care in Larimer County states, child care providers, both profit and non-profit, cannot afford to pay high enough wages to attract and retain a qualified workforce. They, too, are facing workforce challenges that prevent them from operating at full capacity. The high cost of providing quality child care threatens the financial viability and sustainability of providers.
The Early Childhood Council of Larimer County is a non-profit organization whose focus is to convene partners across our county to address issues around early childhood, including supporting access to affordable, quality child care. Although we remain deeply concerned about our community’s lack of access to care, we also are seeing a growing awareness and commitment to this issue across our community, which gives us hope for change. United Way of Larimer County, the newly released Community Health Improvement Plan (developed by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) from extensive community input), Communities That Care Initiative (also through LCDHE) and Talent 2.0 have all made this issue a priority moving forward. Together, we believe we can make a difference for children and families.
– Bev Thurber is the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County. She joined the Early Childhood Council in 2008. She has more than 30 years of experience in human services, in areas as diverse as early childhood, child welfare, health care policy, suicide prevention, senior services and refugee services. She has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Masters Degrees in Social Work and Public Administration. When not at work, Bev loves spending time hiking and traveling with her husband, visiting her two grown sons and daughters-in-law, playing with her granddaughter, or reading and doing crossword puzzles.