More than a quarter of the child care centers and home-based providers that serve Colorado children 0-5 are currently closed, reflecting the unprecedented fallout of coronavirus on one the state’s most financially fragile industries.
That data — while incomplete because some providers haven’t yet reported their status to the state — paints a preliminary picture of Colorado’s child care landscape in the wake of the pandemic. It shows that at least one-third of providers statewide are open right now, with wide variations between counties.
With child care a key factor in whether parents can return to work, both public and private sector leaders will likely watch the numbers closely in the coming months.
The new source of child care data came about after thousands of providers temporarily closed when coronavirus hit. Some followed the lead of local school districts in closing their doors while others said they followed guidance from public health authorities.
State officials at the Colorado Department of Human Services rushed to find a way to keep tabs on who was open and who wasn’t — and what their greatest needs were. Within weeks, the department created a new online portal where providers could update their open-closed status, cite their reasons for closing, and provide other details, such as supplies or staff they’re lacking. (The state collected data from all kinds of child care providers, but this story and map reflect only data for providers who primarily serve babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.)
State leaders said the portal allows the state to efficiently collect information from providers during emergencies, whether a pandemic, flood, or wildfire. Besides helping track trends, it can also highlight trouble spots where, say, providers need help getting cleaning supplies or other aid.
“The idea is to make it really worth the providers’ time to give us this information,” said Erin Mewhinney, director of the state’s Division of Early Care and Learning at the Colorado Department of Human Services. “I do expect that we’ll have more providers respond as time goes on.”
While a small number of Colorado child care providers have recently decided to close permanently because of coronavirus-related health or financial worries, those numbers are collected separately and are not part of this data.
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