Alternatives sought for kids in face of Little Feet’s demise |

Alternatives sought for kids in face of Little Feet’s demise

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

As Little Feet Day Care in Aspen prepares to close its doors, one city agency is trying hard to find supplemental childcare for parents affected by the closure.

Kids First, a sales tax-funded city department that provides funds to nonprofit childcare providers, is working with parents to try and relocate kids to centers around the valley.

“Yes, [the loss of Little Feet] is a blow. Any time parents are at a loss and we can’t find a good fit for them for childcare, it’s tough on the community,” said Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First. “It’s hard for parents, it’s hard for employers, and the kids pay the price sometimes.”

Little Feet Day Care announced its financial difficulties almost a year ago, saying the center had built up $50,000 in debt since it began operating in 1991. For years the center enjoyed free rent from Pitkin County in the Schultz Health and Human Services Building, but childcare is typically a costly venture.

“Nobody goes into childcare thinking they’ll make a lot of money,” Ritter said. In order to be a licensed childcare provider, a certain child-to-adult ratio must not be exceeded, meaning that a large number of employees must be at a center ” especially in the instance of infant care.

Although parents and staff members held numerous fund-raisers over the past year, the financial burden eventually grew too large. Parents were told of the impending closure last Friday, and the center’s last day of operation will be Feb. 27.

An estimated 25 children ” from infants to preschoolers ” are affected by the closure.

Ritter said she’d like to sit down with local families, childcare providers, the city and county to determine if everyone can work together to preserve the center, and if the center makes fiscal sense. But before that, the priority is finding help for parents who need childcare, and teachers needing new jobs.

“Logistically there’s no way any other program could come around in two weeks and have another program there,” she said. “There is going to be a break in services, and that’s regrettable, but all of us do this work because we’re hopeful that new alternatives will come out of this, and maybe bring the community together.”

A Basalt childcare center closed in late October after financial difficulties. Buddies Program Inc. was a for-profit business with about 30 children enrolled.

Ritter said that there is someone getting ready to open a new preschool and toddler program in the Buddies space, known as “Solera.” In addition, Blue Lake Preschool recently opened an infant room.

Many childcare providers have called Kids First, offering their two cents.

“The board [of directors for Little Feet] and teachers gave it there best shot, and we helped as best we could, and now the other providers in town are much more collaborative,” Ritter said. “They’re all calling and asking what they can do to help.”