by Holly Jacobson, Council Coordinator, Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families As many of us can relate, having a baby is one of the most magical times in our lives. There is euphoria that resonates from an inexplicable place where all is well in the world. It’s a time when you want to capture every single moment as you realize the days are long but the weeks are short. Before long, the day you plan to return to work is upon you. Regardless of how long you were off, unrelenting questions arise: Who will take care of my child once I am back to work? How much will it cost? Should it be close to home or work? Will my child be safe, loved and eventually ready for school? Approximately 2,000 babies are born annually in Mesa County, with 10,000 kids under age 5 in our local communities. That being said, Mesa County’s licensed child care facilities can only serve 21% of the county’s children from birth to 5 years of age. No wonder parents struggle with finding open slots when looking for child care, let alone trying to find care that is high quality, affordable, safe and nurturing. The word on the street is that “the child care struggle is real.” As a new parent, you think, “How is that possible?” It truly is a child care crisis when parents report, “There are just not enough child care options, so trying to find a good fit is impossible; you just have to go with what’s open if it’s your last resort.” “It costs at least $30 per day for a toddler. It’s almost impossible for a single mom to afford child care. Parents have to choose between work and taking care of your kid.” For those of you who want to stop reading by now and think this problem doesn’t affect you, please consider the following: We know and value the impact of a well-educated workforce on a strong economy, but we underestimate the importance of the early years as a foundation for preparing new generations for a 21st-century workplace. Today, the reading and math scores for Mesa County fourth graders are 25% lower than state averages. If we are sincere about investing in Mesa County’s future, we must make sure that enough quality child care is available and that it is advancing our children’s development, not hindering it. Quality child care = children who are better prepared for school = an educated workforce = a stronger economy. However you look at it, and regardless of which aspect of the equation you care about, we all benefit when children in our community are cared for in safe, nurturing and quality environments. It is important to note this is where you come in. Local community leaders and dedicated community members are committed to making our community a healthier place! This is where an initiative called Child Care 8,000 was developed, under the leadership of Mesa County Public Health and local partners. Specifically, we are seeking to increase the number of sustainable, licensed child care slots from 4,200 to 8,000 by 2022 (a 91% increase). In order to do this, we must collectively create a thriving local child care industry by preparing a skilled workforce, improving efficiencies, increasing profit and engaging the local community. To accomplish these goals, it is going to take the support of our entire community. We invite you to learn more about child care in Mesa County by visiting Healthy Mesa County’s Child Care Dashboard and the Child Care 8,000 initiative. If you are interested in entering the profession or are a provider seeking to expand the education and training for your staff, contact the Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families at (970) 683-4303 to learn more about the early childhood career pathways available in our community. In need of child care? Visit health.mesacounty.us. You can also contact Mesa County Public Health’s licensing team at (970) 248-6900 to find available slots with current licensed providers. Author note: Holly Jacobson is the Co-Council Coordinator of Mesa County Partnership for Children and Families. She is a graduate of Colorado State University (Master of Arts) and Colorado Mesa University (Bachelor of Arts). Holly is a western Colorado native as she spent her childhood years in Meeker. Currently, she loves living in Fruita with her husband and two-year-old daughter.