Two-year old Kaliyah Martinez lost her young life last month. Her father, Kristopher Martinez, unable to find a babysitter or affordable child care, brought her to work. Most have read what happened next (Herald, March 13).
In 2010, the Department of Transportation finalized a rule requiring that all new vehicles be designed to be “resistant to accidental actuation.” That helps with vehicle safety but does nothing to address the root cause of why Kaliyah was in her dad’s truck at work in the first place: the lack of available and affordable child care in La Plata County.
Many young children go home from school to empty houses; others, although they are far too young, are left home alone at night while a parent works. Without adequate income to pay for child care, parents have few options.
Fortunately, a “Child Care Crisis Committee” has formed to address this issue. A group of nearly two dozen early childhood professionals and community and business leaders, most of whom have other full-time jobs, has been working voluntarily since September to identify the crisis’ components.
The committee – as wide-ranging as the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County, Thrive Living Wage Coalition, Durango Chamber of Commerce, SUCAP, Durango School District 9-R and Fort Lewis College – is starting with data collection, looking at the hard cost of child care, provider wages and other reasons for provider declines and ways to reverse them. They also have interest in starting a speakers bureau to increase awareness of the issue.
Last month, the committee applied for grant funds to develop and implement strategies to address provider compensation, recruitment, work environment and education and career pathways. It’s an important start.
Unfortunately, with Kaliyah, Mr. Martinez’s pay was a couple thousand dollars too high to qualify for child care assistance from the state and too little after paying regular living expenses – rent, utilities, food, gas and a car payment – to afford consistent child care. With two kids, that could run him $900 per month, more than he pays in monthly rent.
Lack of access to affordable child care so parents can work is just one aspect of what keeps families from getting ahead. Livable wages, affordable housing, access to healthy food, education, health and child care combined will make a difference in the lives of hard-working parents and their kids.
With the help of the United Way of Southwest Colorado, Team UP Southwest Colorado has formed in Montezuma and Dolores counties to help families succeed there, too (Herald, April 2).
The La Plata County committee’s interest in raising awareness of Southwest Colorado’s child care crisis will benefit from the April 25 visit to Durango by Jenna Bush Hager, NBC’s “Today” correspondent, chair of UNICEF’s Next Generation and daughter of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush. Sponsored by the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado, as a part of its Making A Difference Speaker Series, Ms. Bush Hager will speak about her passion for early childhood education and literacy.
It won’t bring Kaliyah back, but perhaps the next child care facility could be named in her memory. The Kaliyah Martinez Child Care Center would remind us of a beautiful little girl whose life was cut short because her dad was short on child care options, and of the work necessary to ensure it never happens again.