EDITORIAL: Caring for the Young, Part One

A typical family with 2 young children and the median salary for Archuleta County ($48,186) will spend approximately 41% of its income on childcare and preschool.

— From the April 2017 ‘Early Care and Education Report’ produced by the Archuleta County work group.

The year was 1943, and Henry J. Kaiser had a problem.

His seven shipyards in Richmond, California and Portland, Oregon had obtained contracts to build over 1,000 ships for the British and American war efforts — but the young men who once worked in his shipyards had gone off to face the enemy in Europe and Asia. The only employees Kaiser could easily hire, to do the technical welding for his specialized shipbuilding process, were young women. But the women had children. Young children. Children who couldn’t be left unattended.

He needed to build something besides ships. He needed to create nursery schools.

Kaiser invited key figures in child development studies to his shipyards to set up facilities and programs so his female workers could build ships without worrying about the safety and health of their children. These model daycare centers, designed by professors from UC Berkeley and Columbia University, enrolled more than 7,000 children, and yielded research results that established a template for early childhood education for decades to come.

The “We Can Do It!” poster by J. Howard Miller was created for the War Production Coordinating Committee during World War II as an inspirational image to boost worker morale.

The manager of the Portland nursery school, James Hymes, summarized the school research this way:

Every daycare center, whether it knows it or not, is a school. The choice is never between custodial care and education. The choice is between unplanned and planned education, between conscious and unconscious education, between bad education and good education.

Hymes was not yet 30 when he tackled the job at Kaiser’s Portland shipyards, and one of his projects was the creation of nine pamphlets, explaining how the nursery schools could meet the needs of children as young as 18 months. One of those pamphlets was entitled, “Should Children Under Two Be in Nursery School?” and it addressed a sensitive issue the Kaiser centers were forced to face head-on. Generally, nursery schools did not accept children under 2; experiments had shown the younger children do not thrive in group settings. But the demand for infant care was too high in the shipyards to ignore, so the Kaiser centers agreed to accept children as young as 18 months. In Oregon alone, the centers enrolled 904 children 18 to 24 months of age.

Hymes wrote:

We therefore set out to plan a program which would include among other things: Provision for close and continuous relation of each child with one adult who would be responsible for him especially during eating, toileting and sleeping, and during any time of emotional stress when he needed ‘mothering,’

One thing worth noting, perhaps, about Kaiser’s innovative nursery schools: they were subsidized by the federal government for the duration of the war.

And then, they closed their doors.

Here is Pagosa Springs, we are currently talking about innovative solutions to a similar problem. Mothers with young children, in 2017, are expected to hold down a job, even though the family might, as a result, spend up to 41 percent of its monthly income on daycare.

The Pagosa community’s Early Care and Education Work Group was tasked, about a year ago, with discovering solutions to what appears to be a shortage of daycare openings for preschoolers in Archuleta County. They have now released their “final report” and will be presenting their findings tomorrow at a joint meeting of the Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners — two local governments that have identified the shortage of daycare slots as one of three or four problems most in need of a local solution, — if Pagosa Springs is going to remain a viable place for young families to live, and for businesses to operate.

Except, we don’t use the word “daycare” any longer. We now use the term “Early Care and Education.”

A few quotes from that 52-page report (which you can download here):

The Early Care and Education Work Group was created under the leadership of [County Commissioner] Michael Whiting and [School District Superintendent] Linda Reed to act as a trusted advisor for the Town and County to collect and distill data regarding the availability and need for affordable, quality early care and education in Archuleta County. The ECEWG was specifically tasked with advising the Town and County about options and recommendations for meeting these needs.

With the generous funds provided by the El Pomar Foundation and matched by the Town and County, a project coordinator was hired in May of 2016 for a period of one year to spearhead the work. The position entailed management of the project and collaboration with local, regional and state early care and education (ECE) entities and key stakeholders in Archuleta County.

The other members of the Work Group included project coordinator Jan Santopietro and volunteer members Mary Jo Coulehan, Matt Dodson, Teddy Finney, Katharine Frisbee, Garry Lassman, Dee McPeek, and David Smith.

The report details a four-step process:

Phase I: Collect Data on Availability
The objective was to determine the number of licensed care and education slots available in Archuleta County and the number of children enrolled in those slots, ages birth up to five years. There are 193 effective full-time slots, which are most often filled. Phase I was completed in July, 2016.

Phase II: Collect Data on Need
The objective was to determine the number of children ages birth up to five years who would be enrolled in early care or education if it was available and affordable. The goal was achieved by distributing a two-question survey to parents in five focus groups in Archuleta County. The survey results indicated that additional slots were needed for all age groups and the number of currently available slots must be increased by approximately 150%. Phase II was completed in November, 2016.

Phase III: Research other Community Programs
The objective was to learn how other communities meet their early care and education needs. Fifteen communities were chosen based on a high-quality rating by Colorado Shines, proximity to Archuleta County, community similarities and referrals from the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Early Childhood, Tri-County Head Start and others… Detailed interviews were conducted with each about their innovative solutions. Much was discovered about successful collaboration among local governments and school districts, as well as federal and state funding options and public tax initiatives. The data were grouped and analyzed to help identify approaches that could be useful in Archuleta County. Phase III was completed in January, 2017.

Phase IV: Findings and Recommendations
The objective was to distill all data and suggest options for increasing ECE in Archuleta County… Solution options were presented as examples of ways to meet the needs for specific age groups of children. Recommendations were included to effect progress toward a workable solution of providing more affordable early care and education to Archuleta County families. Phase IV was completed in April, 2017.

Tomorrow in the Daily Post, we’ll begin to look at the solutions, and who might pay for them.

Read Part Two…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.