Remembering the children

Early Childhood Council to involve area agencies

— Life for new parents can be tough, Jenna Davis said.

As a mother, Davis knows from experience.

"As a parent, you kind of feel on your own," she said.

But, as senior consultant for the state's Early Childhood Councils Program, Davis said a state program new to Moffat and Rio Blanco counties may make parenthood a little easier.

The Northwest Colorado Council for Children and Families will rally area agencies, law enforcement, health care professionals and educators around young children and their parents, council officials said.

The end product: An early childhood system that makes parents aware of area resources, including health care and education.

"This is really an opportunity for Moffat and Routt (counties) to develop and share a vision and a voice for children birth to 8 years old," Davis said.

"It's an opportunity to connect parents to resources they don't know exist."

The council will be a joint effort between Moffat and Rio Blanco counties as mandated by the state, said Debbie Yeager, Early Childhood Coordinator for the two counties.

The dual-county Council will become one of the newest additions to a statewide early child care program. Last May, the Colorado Legislature approved to extend the program across the state.

Between $25,000 and $50,000 in state and federal funds will support the group. Those funds "are not going to go away," Yeager said, adding that the money will help establish the program.

However, as the council begins implementing its plans, it will need other funding sources, she said.

A strategic planning committee will begin meeting in coming months, Yeager said. The committee will establish the group's by-laws and conduct informal surveys to determine what early childhood services and resources the counties need.

Seats will become available on the council after the survey, Yeager said.

The state mandates the council to have a varied committee membership, she said, including parents and representatives from education, childcare, and business fields.

"It's going to take a group of individuals with a variety of backgrounds and experience to make sure we don't miss a key piece," Yeager said. "Let's get everyone involved before problems start."

The committee still needs about 25 members, Yeager said, to discuss the council's future in upcoming meetings.

Members must commit to attending four to six meetings in coming months. The first gathering is from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 29 at Gary's Steak House, 624 Market St. in Meeker.

About 20 people gathered at a meeting Wednesday morning at The Center of Craig to unveil the program. The audience included area child care providers, educators, law enforcement officers and Social Security officials.

Sarah Hepworth, Moffat County School District Early Childhood Services director, was among them.

"Most groups that are meeting aren't focusing on kids under 8" years old, she said. "Sometimes, there just (aren't) services available" for young children.

Statistics provided by the council supported Hepworth's claim.

Of the total public funds spent on children between infancy and age 18, less than 20 percent is allocated to children 5 years old and younger, the council reported.

However, a child's brain development increases by about 60 percent during those ages.

Still, Hepworth said once people become aware of early education needs, support will follow.

City Councilor Terry Carwile attended the meeting so he could give a report to the council later this month.

"I think this one has a better chance than other efforts" to make long-term improvements in early childhood services, he said. "It's always nice to see something cohesive.

"Plus, it never hurts to have state funding to bet (the council) off the ground."

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