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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Colorado Opens Child Care Program For Essential Workers Amid School Closures

The Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative will provide child care to emergency and essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Updated 3/30/2020 at 2:30 p.m.: The Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative has expanded the program to include all essential workers. It will now provide child care to people in more industries, including educators, janitors and grocery store workers. The state will provide full tuition credit until May 17.

The original story continues below.

Young Peoples Learning Center in Fort Collins is a community school that offers year-round toddler and preschool programs. It usually serves more than 100 kids a day, but that has changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Our toddler center, I think they had six kids today out of their 25," owner Heather Griffith Harris said. "Our preschool center had, between school-agers and preschoolers, probably about 15 kids out of 85."

While child care facilities around the state have closed because of the coronavirus, Young Peoples Learning Center has manage to stay open. The reason, said Harris, is because families are continuing to pay tuition even while their kids stay home.

"At the moment that's still working," she said. "I don't know how long that other parents are gonna be able to support us through that."

Parents who still drop their kids off at the school include sanitation and health care workers — people who deemed emergency and essential personnel by the state, which means they are eligible for emergency child care.

"You have a serious problem that people needed to solve," said Mike Johnston, president and CEO of Gary Community Investments, a philanthropic organization that works with low-income children and families, "which is making sure our emergency workers can still get child care and get to work."

On March 18, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order closing all public and private K-12 schools in the state. That included preschools on public school campuses. But in the order, he also asked independent daycare and other preschool facilities to remain open.

"We know that about 80,000 emergency workers have children under age eight," Polis said at the press conference. "Without child care, some of these workers simply won't be able to perform the jobs that are crucial to saving lives and containing the spread of virus when they're most in need."

Polis created the Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative to help these families. The collaborative is comprised of a group of early child providers, school districts, foundations and advocacy groups, including Gary Community Investments. They have partnered with the Department of Human Services and the Office of Early Childhood to establish a system of childcare for those working in health care, public safety and with at-risk populations.

The website matches children from birth through middle school, with providers statewide. It doesn't matter if a community has confirmed cases of COVID-19, service is provided based on where the emergency and essential workers live.

The program launched on March 23 and drew immediate interest, Johnston said. Parents and child care providers started signing up before it officially started.

"We took applications from thousands of Colorado families and from hundreds of Colorado providers who are willing to provide services," he said.

The first two weeks are free. After that, a sliding scale payment system will be implemented. As of March 25, over 2,100 families had submitted requests for immediate or future child care support.

"I think we filled out something like we could take five or ten preschoolers and five or ten toddlers," said Heather Griffith Harris at Young Peoples Learning Center. They have applied for the program, but haven't received any kids yet. Harris said the center can also accommodate older children.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Heather Griffith Harris is the owner of Young Peoples Learning Center, which has remained open in Fort Collins during the coronavirus pandemic.

The online form asked what type of assistance the center would need to provide care, according to Harris. It's a tough question for her to answer.

"We're not an industry that gets a lot of support. So, you know, it's hard for us to know what we can ask for," said Harris. "When they say what kind of supports do you need? Well I'm used to doing it all myself, so what's out there?"

Harris has not laid off any staff, but six of her employees have chosen to stop working. She worries, if her teachers get a job somewhere else in the interim, they might not come back to child care once the coronavirus is contained.

"It's already a super strained workforce and it's a hard job," she said. "It doesn't pay well and we keep increasing the credentials."

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