EDITORIAL: Caring for the Young, Part Seven

Read Part One

At the Pagosa Springs Town Council meeting tonight, the Council will be asked to subsidize the Early Care and Education Work Group for another year.

Readers of this editorial series may have got the picture that I feel the group’s research, thus far, has been slanted towards one single solution to a very complex problem — namely, the creation of a second “Seeds of Learning” type childcare center. If the Town government is inclined to fund the group for another year, I hope they will ask the group to broaden the scope of their research, to include the numerous other types of childcare solutions provided in various Colorado communities.

My daughter Ursala has two children — Amelie, age 7 and Simone, age 2 — and she occasionally feels stressed about running a graphic design business while also trying to do the best job of raising her daughters. Her childcare arrangements are a creative (and sometimes improvisational) mix of solutions… especially for two-year-old Simone, including:

1. Taking Simone along, to the office.

2. Enrolling Simone two days a week at Seeds of Learning.

3. Doing a “childcare swap” with her best friend, who also has a toddler and owns a local business.

4. Relying on husband Chris, when he’s available.

5. Relying in grandpa Bill, when he’s available.

6. Relying on other moms, in emergency situations.

7. Turning down prospective jobs, so she has time to simply “be a mom.”

As with so many things, a combination of ingredients are sometimes necessary — and even then, the outcome may not be totally satisfactory.

I chatted with one of our local elected leaders last Friday, about some of the assumptions made by the Early Care and Education Work Group — assumptions that included the proposition that any solutions to Archuleta County’s childcare issues will cost $12,000 per child per year, and should ideally be handled by an institutional “childcare center” rather than by individual home-based businesses, or through other creative arrangements… or even more appropriately, perhaps, by more moms staying home with their young children, instead of working at one of our community’s many low-paying jobs.

Our Friday conversation began with a quick nod to historical child-rearing practices over the past 50,000 years, and the seemingly “natural and organic” solution to the care of children under the age of 6 years — that they be raised in intimate proximity to their biological mother. Which is to say, in a manner that reflects the natural and organic solution chosen by almost every other mammalian species on the planet.

There might be a popular assumption that, in this modern day and age, women with young children want the satisfaction of earning a paycheck, and see the role of “stay-at-home mother” as ultimately unsatisfying. Is that a correct assumption?

Or is America confused about childcare, and the best way to raise children?

During our Friday chat, my friend confessed that his own daughters would like to stay home and raise their young children, but feel it’s simply not financially feasible. That sentiment seems to be echoed by recent surveys of American women published by the Pew Research Center. In a 2012 report, we learned that 62% of adults believe that “a marriage in which the husband and wife both have jobs, and both take care of the house and children, provides a more satisfying life than one in which the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the home.”

But when the researchers focused questions specifically on working mothers and child-rearing choices, a different picture unfolded. Only 21% of adults say the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home has been a good thing for society, and 37% say this has been a bad thing. Additionally, women reported feeling stressed about balancing work and family, with 40% of working moms said they always feel rushed. This compares with 26% of stay-at-home moms.

Most working mothers (62%) said that they would prefer to work part-time, and only 37% say they prefer full-time work.

The reality for today’s working moms directly contradicts those stated preferences. 74% work full-time while only 26% work part-time.

According to the Pew research, 88% — almost 9 out of 10 moms — felt that a family where the mother works full-time is not an ideal situation for a child.

So we have an unpleasant situation here in Pagosa Springs, and in the rest of the nation. We sense that there’s a childcare crisis, but we feel the solutions we’ve come up with, so far, are basically at odds with the kind of life most women want for themselves and their children.

The Early Care and Education Work Group began their work a year ago by surveying Pagosa families. The survey asked only two questions:

1. How many children does your family have in each of the following age groups?

2. If affordable early childhood care and education were available, how many of your children would you enroll in each age group?

Based on the responses from several hundred families to only those two questions, the ECE Work Group spent a year compiling data and researching possible funding models. (You can download the report here.) The group’s key assumption, based on the answers to those two questions, was:

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s consider whether the ECE Work Group actually had enough information to begin its year-long task?

We know with some certainty that there are currently about 193 licensed childcare “slots” in the community. We apparently have no idea how many “unlicensed” care providers are also delivering childcare.

We know that the surveyed parents gave some indication of additional need. But the Work Group did not ask several key questions that are probably essential to defining the best approach to a very complex situation.

1. What price do you consider ‘affordable’?

2. Ideally, how many days a week would you enroll your child?

2. How many hours per day of group play and/or education would benefit your child?

3. Assuming the same level of caregiver training, would you prefer a ‘family home-based program’ … or a ‘center-based program’ … or a ‘cooperative, parent-based program’?

The Work Group did not ask these simple but essential questions, but nevertheless made the assumption, it seems, that all of the respondents were looking for full-time care, and that every family would prefer an institutional “center-based” program.

Yet we know, from the Pew research that most working mothers do not want to work full-time, and overwhelmingly believe that mothers of young children should not be working full-time — for the child’s sake.

What are our local governments, with their access to significant taxpayer revenues, going to do with this information?

Read Part Eight…

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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.