Study may focus on Routt Co.

Group may choose local child-care sites for testing

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— A Colorado nonprofit group dedicated to early childhood development is looking at Routt County as a possible site to conduct a study on improving quality in child-care settings.

"Routt County is highly regarded statewide for providing leadership to improve early care and education services for kids and families," said Cary Kennedy, director of public policy for Educare.

"We want to work in communities where there's a passion for working with kids," added Educare colleague Garrit Westervelt, vice president of operations.

Educare sent three representatives from its Denver-based office Monday to talk with board members of First Impressions, the local group that helps oversee dozens of child-care groups in the county.

Educare was established in 1997 by business people in Colorado who felt not enough was being done to address the importance of early childhood education.

For example, Educare said research on brain development has shown 85 percent of a person's intellect, personality and social skills are developed by age 5, yet 95 percent of public investment in education occurs after children reach the age of 5.

Educare is working with the Rand Corporation, a research and evaluation company, to establish a quality child-care rating system.

For example, if Routt County participated, Educare would randomly choose 10 child-care sites (homes or centers) that would get help from the agency in the form of an Educare staff person; funding for materials, training and equipment; and educational plans. All would be housed in Educare sites.

Educare would also monitor 10 other child-care sites that wouldn't receive any special help from the agency. These would be called Usualcare sites.

One such study has already begun in Mesa County. When the three-year study is up, Educare will test children in both the Educare and Usualcare sites.

"Children are assessed at age 3 and we follow the children into the first grade," explained Westervelt.

While the 3-year-olds are the only children being tested, the other children at the Educare sites will receive the same benefits.

Educare hopes to have five such studies finished in the next five years. The agency has a quality rating system for child care that runs from one star to four stars.

Its ultimate goal is to prove quality can be measured and improved, and in the end "help kids," Westervelt said.

If Educare is successful, the agency hopes its results can be used to persuade the state to help fund a "statewide system that promotes high-quality child-centered care which can be evaluated and monitored, while also supporting parents as teachers."

Many of the First Impressions board members were interested in having Routt County participate in such a study, but board member Nancy Stahoviak, who also serves as a Routt County Commissioner, was worried about how much money the county and city of Steamboat Springs might have to put toward the study.

For example, Mesa County kicked in $1.5 million to help with the study, but Westervelt said every community is different.

He pointed out that Routt County is smaller than Mesa County and might not have to kick in much money at all if First Impressions is successful in getting a half-cent sales tax passed in November. That money is being earmarked for child-care teaching pay, which would be a big part of Educare's study to help improve quality.

Educare would provide money on its part from philanthropic donors.

In the meantime, Westervelt told the First Impressions board that it was ironic that society found higher education very valuable and has found all sorts of ways to help fund college.

"All this (college) funding comes at a time when parents have the most money they've ever had," Westervelt said. "Yet there's this huge child-care expense when parents are in their 20s and have no money."

The First Impressions board agreed to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being included in the study before taking it to local leaders for their input.

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