It’s no secret that many parents in Teton County struggle, and have struggled for years, to find adequate child care. But now elected officials are trying to figure out how severe the problem truly is.
The Town Council has approved funding for a study of child care resources in the area. The scope of the study isn’t set, but it will likely involve determining the number of providers, how many spots they offer for children of various ages, how long families spend on waitlists, and perhaps pricing.
“The first thing that needs to happen is a baseline inventory,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said. “Just to see where we’re at.”
With $2,500 from the town, and likely another $2,500 from the county, officials plan to hire a consultant to outline the nature of the child care dilemma in Jackson Hole. Tyler Sinclair, community development director for the town, said he would soon define the parameters of the project and begin soliciting bids.
He said the study could be expanded to include projections for needs in the future. That would result in a better understanding of how the town and county can plan, and what role the government and the private sector should each play in solving the child care shortage.
But barring that, Sinclair said he hopes to at least complete a barebones inventory that will reveal where the current system is failing young families.
“The cost of daycare and the availability of day care can certainly be a barrier in mountain towns like ours,” he said.
Sinclair said he is unsure how long the inventory will take, but that he doesn’t expect it will be “too labor intensive.”
Levinson and Teton County Commissioner Natalia Macker — the only two female elected officials and both mothers of young children — are largely responsible for the heightened attention to the difficulties parents face in finding child care. The two have brought the subject to prominence in recent months, pushing for action on the often-overlooked issue.
Earlier this year they each brought resolutions before their respective government bodies to recognize the Week of the Young Child, an “annual celebration” hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
After that symbolic move the council asked town staff to consider ways to support child care providers by easing regulations and supplying public funding, though that has yet to produce results.
Macker said she recently spoke about child care with elected officials from two counties in Colorado — Routt and Pitkin — both of whom she said seemed to have a solid understanding of the need in their communities.
“What struck me,” she said, “was that they were both able to say what percentage of their population they were hoping to serve and what their gap was. I think we need to get a grasp on some of that.”
One thing they will be looking for is whether providers are licensed to serve more children, but hold enrollment down due to lack of employees. Many providers cite insufficient staffing as one of their foremost problems, but actual statistics would be useful.
“I think the more we can have data to help us understand the need,” Macker said, “then we can hopefully make great strides.”
The last study of child care resources in Teton County took place in 2012, when Susan Eriksen-Meier Consulting found that the county’s providers could accommodate only about half the number of children under 5.
Though Macker and Levinson have spearheaded child care initiatives, their male counterparts have shown enthusiasm for their efforts.
“It’s great to see us taking concrete steps toward achieving the vision,” Councilor Jim Stanford said.