Guest column: Early childhood development is crucial to our success
As Eagle County residents we’re fortunate to live the midst of incredible mountains and incredible people. We work hard to sustain the environment that supports our economy, and also to care for the current and future residents who live and work here. We’re hosting our next Community Conversation on early-childhood development in El Jebel and invite you to join us in a discussion of how best to cultivate and nurture our youngest residents.
Science tells us that a child’s success in life is based on the experiences and opportunities they have in the early years. These experiences literally shape how their brains are built. A strong foundation created in very early childhood increases the probability of health and well-being later on, and the future of any society depends on its ability to foster the success of the next generation. Today’s children will become tomorrow’s residents, workers and parents. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future at risk.
In the here and now, there is a more immediate local impact. According to a recent study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, 85 percent of employers report that providing child care services improved employee recruitment.
Access to high-quality, reliable child care boosts employee productivity and lowers absenteeism, reducing missed workdays by 20 to 30 percent. For Eagle County to thrive, we need to be able to attract a high-quality workforce, and that begins with making sure that our supporting resources — like child care — are strong. Investing in quality care supports our current workers and gives our youngest children a foundation for their future success.
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In Eagle County, we have a population of about 4,300 children ages 6 years old and younger. Of those, 67 percent, or 2,880, live in households where both parents work. But only about 1,200 children are enrolled in licensed child care. Availability and cost are the major barriers parents face when enrolling their child. Most programs have long waiting lists with children added before they’re born. If parents are lucky enough to get into a program, infant and toddler care can cost more per year than university tuition in Colorado.
The county and school district currently offer high-quality programs focused on early-childhood development, including the state preschool program, Early Head Start, Head Start and the county-state child care assistance program. However, these programs only have the capacity to fulfill a small portion of the need.
What are we as a community doing to ensure the healthy development of our children? What should we be doing — not only for the good of the children, but for the sake of our future workforce? Should the county be reaching more children with high-quality programs? How large a role do residents expect or want the county to play in the lives of our youngest residents?
The Board of County Commissioners wants to engage you in a conversation about these questions. We invite you to join us at 5:30 p.m. April 7 at the El Jebel Community Center, 0020 Eagle County Drive. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll feed you dinner, and we look forward to the discussion.
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