woman reading with toddler

Like everything else, early care and education (ECE) is experiencing significant changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of you reading this blog with a toddler in your lap are especially aware of how true this is.

To learn more about ECE and its profound effects on us all—not just those of us with young children—I spoke with Lisa Jansen Thompson, M.A., the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County (ECPAC).

QUESTION: Why is early care and education (ECE) important for children?

ANSWER: High quality ECE has been shown to dramatically increase children’s readiness for school – specifically for children living in poverty or experiencing other adversities that may put them at risk of being behind. 

Research shows that when children start school behind, they often stay behind – creating lifelong impacts. Furthermore, having access to affordable, high quality ECE is critical for families’ ability to both go to school and to work – and it has been shown to help employees be more productive and get opportunities to advance in their career. 

Q: Why is ECE important to the community as a whole?

Group of Kids Playing at the Field Together

A: Early care and education plays a vital role in our economy as it allows more people to be fully employed. Additionally, it helps prepare future generations to contribute both to their community and to the future economy.

Children who attend preschool have shown higher school success. Especially for those growing up in poverty, ECE provides them the foundation to move out of poverty in their adult years.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the sector?

A: ECE infrastructure was already fragile prior to COVID-19 due to financial and workforce issues. With the arrival of COVID-19, many programs have seen a 65-75% decline in enrollment – which greatly impacts their financial stability. 

Furthermore, the current public health order in Colorado allows no more than 10 children per group, which for preschoolers and school-aged classrooms is significantly smaller than what is usually allowed. The tuition rates for these older children are usually much lower because fewer staff are needed (compared to classes for younger children). With the new COVID-related requirement, a higher personnel cost – with lower revenue – is further challenging their financial model. 

Sanitization and disinfectant procedures have increased, but many programs have little access to the needed supplies. If programs can’t get supplies, they will have to close down. 

Child care for families of essential workers is one of the priorities in our sector. But it creates a concern that those children potentially have a greater risk of exposure to the virus – and this could pose a greater risk to staff and other children. There are some advocacy efforts underway to encourage qualifying ECE providers for hazard pay.

Q: What are the common misconceptions about ECE?

A: Early care and education provide the opportunity for children to develop needed skills for success in school, including both pre-academic skills and social-emotional skills. As academic expectations have advanced over the years, children now need to learn these skills before they enter kindergarten. 

Additionally, ECE is expensive for families – and yet many of these programs struggle to make ends meet and their staff makes close to minimum wage. ECE teachers are required to have two college-level classes and two years of experience to be left alone with a child – and must have at least 15 hours of continuing education each year. Yet these teachers are not always considered “professionals” and are often seen more as “babysitters.”

While there is some state investment in supporting the costs of early education, it is not enough to adequately bring costs down to make it affordable for families – and to adequately compensate staff for the important work they do. (State funds support 7% of the need for ECE in Adams County.)

Q: Tell us about the affordability and accessibility of quality ECE Programs in Adams County

A: ECPAC spent about 18 months diving deep into what is needed to build up a strong ECE system that increases access, affordability, and high-quality options for families in Adams County. 

What we learned was that access to ECE varies significantly across our county. An Adams County family with one parent and two children (infant and preschooler) needs to make more than $75,000 per year to afford ECE and housing. 

Q: How has COVID-19 highlighted inequities in our communities?

A: Families with lower incomes are less likely to have what they need during this time, and their resources are stretched very thin as they try to cover housing, food, child care, etc. Parents who have lower-paying jobs are less likely to be able to work from home, so have likely had their hours significantly reduced or been laid off. 

Often, these jobs do not include access to health care benefits or access to paid sick leave if they do become ill. Families of color and/or those run by single women are more likely to have these lower paying jobs without needed benefits.  

Q: Do you have any resources for parents that are at home with kids?

A: For parents with younger children, Bright by Text and Vroom provide daily activity ideas. ECPAC’s website also has resources for families with young children. (Also check out FRCC’s recent blog post on educational resources and activities for families learning from home.)

Please see the FRCC website for all updates about the college’s response to COVID-19, available services, FAQs and more. More information and contact information for personal counseling and stress management through Front Range can be found here.

More information about FRCC’s Early Childhood Education programs can be found here.

For questions about additional resources for students who are parents, please contact: Maegan.vallejo@frontrange.edu.

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