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It can be tough for Colorado families to find child care, but some relief may be on the way.
The Department of Early Childhood awarded $21.5 million in one-year CIRCLE grants to nearly 200 organizations to advance innovation, promote equity, and address childcare challenges that have been worsened by the pandemic. They can use the grants to fund projects to make child care more affordable, boost the child care workforce, fill gaps in infant and toddler care, expand business support and promote the health, development and education of children.
Local non-profit organization Early Connections Learning Centers received one of the largest grants. They plan to use the $175,000 to expand their Home Network Program for family care homes.
"While this particular funding project is new to our organization, it is an extension of the work we've been for doing over 20 years. Our Home Network of the Pikes Peak Region has been working with individually licensed family child care homes to increase their quality, improve business practices, and additional accessibility for families in El Paso County," said Liz Denson, President and CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers.
The organization plans to recruit more people into the program, and help them navigate state rules and regulations.
"We are working with them to increase their education, help them with safety and health regulations, and navigate what it is like. They got into child care because they care about children, not because they know how to run a business the best they can," said Denson.
They plan to hire two coaches to help them through the process. Each coach will work with 12 homes for a total of 24 to help fill the gaps of care.
"In working with those homes, we will help them increase their capacity to provide additional infant and toddler care in our community. Potentially partnering with early head start to provide early head-start options to those families in those homes. Providing additional capacity for 72 infant and toddler slots that do not currently exist in our community," said Denson.
"The family childcare homes that we work with are all over El Paso County. So there is convenience to home, work, and school. They are also very flexible, they can be flexible with their hours, curriculum, and can meet the needs of multiple age groups that they serve. We found that to be very important because many times people with an infant, toddler, and a school ager want all of their children together," said Josie Watters, Vice President of Home Operations.
The Department of Early Childhood partnered with Early Milestones to develop a comprehensive evaluation system for the CIRCLE grant program. The organization evaluated all of the grant applications to ensure the process was equitable. More than 50 percent of the grants went directly to child care providers, and throughout the entire state.
Project Geographic Focus Breakdown:
• Rural & Frontier: 57 projects (28%)
• Non-Denver Urban: 31 projects (15%)
• Denver Metro: 86 projects (42%)
• Statewide: 32 projects (15%)
"We definitely prioritized areas that are considered child care deserts. Depending on the number of child care slots to the number of young children under five who would need that car. There is a formula that calculates it so we took that into consideration and prioritizing how funding went out," said Bonnie Rouse Caputo, CDEC Stimulus Grants Manager.
Another round of CIRCLE grants will go out next month. These funds will go directly to child care providers in rural and frontier counties.
Child care providers interested in joining or learning more about the Home Network program can contact Early Connections Learning Centers.
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