Before any parent goes back to work, gets into treatment or tries to tackle any one of life’s challenges that may take them away from their child, they need to find child care. It’s a problem all parents can relate to, but solutions depend entirely on what access to child care looks like in your community.

Options for all families in Colorado will look very different by the fall of 2023 when the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood Education rolls out the voluntary universal preschool program. Two years from now, families with 4-year-olds will have access to 10 hours of childcare per week through community-based centers, a program in a family’s home, a local Head Start program or a school-based provider. Senator Janet Buckner, one of the sponsors of a bill to implement the program shared with CPR News that “[t]he legislation talks about 10 hours but for low income students, they’re going to get additional hours.”

Reports also indicated that the voluntary universal preschool program is estimated to save families about $4,300 a year. That’s great news for all families, but the child care crisis isn’t just impacting families, it’s impacting everyone and every part of society. In particular, it’s impacting local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits’ ability to address some of Colorado’s most complex issues like substance misuse and poverty. Those agencies are getting creative when it comes to increasing access to child care for their clients.

Mile High Behavioral Healthcare provides a continuum of behavioral healthcare —offering affordable care and housing services with focused programs to help adults and young people address life challenges – offering hope for individuals on a journey of recovery—recovery from trauma, substance use and mental health challenges and homelessness. “We are really trying to expand and do things from a family lens, compared to just the identified patient,” said Jessica Courtney, chief clinical officer for Mile High Behavioral Healthcare. 

Listen to Raven’s Miracle Story

HONEY Serves the Denver Metro Area

The organization is one of several organizations utilizing Honey, the Illuminating Child Care on-site child care classroom visiting locations in the Denver Metro Area, to increase access to child care for their clients. Courtney estimates that 95% of the women in the Miracles program engaged in treatment related to substance misuse and mental health challenges have children. The program offers traditional and enhanced outpatient programming to meet the individual needs of the women. Classes include life skills, job readiness, parenting, healthy relationships, cooking, yoga, and quilting to support sobriety and recovery.

“Our belief is that the opposite of addiction is connection. Sobriety is fine, but that’s not living. Most of our clients don’t know how to live, they didn’t grow up with trusted adults in their lives. Our clients average an ACEs score of more than seven.” The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score is a guideline used to measure childhood trauma including physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect developed in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. This pivotal study also highlighted the negative–and often lasting–effects childhood trauma can have on health, well-being and opportunity which Miracles’ moms are working to overcome.

The Miracles program lasts all day, every day. And, while the program loves babies, parenting while trying to engage in treatment and recovery comes with some unique challenges. “Babies need time to be away from the high stimulation that is going on with the women talking, doing group or eating together. If a baby is fussy or difficult, it really disrupts the group, and, if a baby is calm and cute, it also disrupts the group,” explained Courtney. “At the same time, we know the importance of a mom being with her kid and learning skills to regulate herself while her baby is dysregulated, all of that is super important. Illuminating Child Care seemed like a natural fit. Having something on site, that they can easily access and run out [of the building] if something major happens, is a really comforting thing.”

The partnership between Mile High Behavioral Healthcare is a great example of multi-generational child maltreatment prevention. “It is nice to have access to [the Illuminating Child Care] team looking out for missed developmental milestones. They have access to different resources than we do and even bring a pediatrician every now and then. When we’re decreasing maternal stress and increasing the maternal community, then we are also decreasing a baby’s future ACEs scores. We’re catching it more upstream,” shared Courtney.

CrossPurpose is also partnering with Illuminate Colorado to increase access to child care for their clientele working to gain sustainable careers and get out of poverty for good. The Denver nonprofit is working to abolish relational, economic, and spiritual poverty through career and community development. Their core program offers six months of intensive classes, for four hours a day, focused on personal and professional development. 

Meet Mariah – A CrossPurpose Graduate

In addition to skills building and personal development for careers in the trades, construction, administration, customer services and medical fields, CrossPurpose also brings together allies, or community volunteers, and alumni to network and build community. “Once a week, we utilize Honey when we have everyone come together – doctors, business owners, retired professionals – a dynamic mix of people from our community, with current students, to network, have a meal, talk about what is going well and what is not going well and offering a couple hours of alleviated stress while our students are in the program,” said Sianna Gomez, director of a new Fellowship Cohort for Alumni at CrossPurpose. 

“Honey takes child care out of the equation for that weekly dinner. One of the other things we are looking to tap into is Illuminate’s navigation services to help our parents find more services, including quality-rated child care services,” said Gomez. “Access to child care is not easy right now. If a parent has two to three children and is a single mom – and we get that all the time – it’s common to take an hour and a half to drop off each kiddo at three different locations since more access to child care isn’t available closer to her, and then we expect her to potentially get a job or to come to training when she doesn’t even have a car to get to those places either. Child care is a barrier to getting a full-time job, and in the grand scheme of things it’s a barrier to getting out of poverty. We have to find creative solutions to help parents find child care close to their job, or they run the risk of losing their job in the future.” 

While many local behavioral health providers and community-based nonprofits have seen people less willing to come back to their brick and mortar locations for services, child care remains among the most important barriers to remove to bring them back. “It’s a super important partnership to have, even if it isn’t totally utilized, everyone knows when Honey comes. Our folks are so distrusting of everybody because people have told them they are terrible for so long. By showing them that another person can be safe, another agency has their best interest in mind, we are growing their community, decreasing barriers to coming to treatment,” said Courtney. “So often facilities focus on the adults, they get a little scared of the children. [Illuminating Child Care] relieves some stress that the provider doesn’t have to do it all, there is a partner that is specializing in this, you can be that connecting person to help make it safe for them to trust somebody else. Our clients are the kids that got missed. Partnering together we’re teaching them that there are systems in place to help them and their children succeed.”

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