How Colorado & Other States are Responding to the Crisis

In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state, and local agencies scrambled to support the essential workers on the front lines of stopping the spread. This included a tidal wave of child care concerns to be addressed. However, each state handled emergency child care differently, generating new and critical questions for local providers and families. Though the crisis is not over, many of these questions can now be answered.

Early Milestones, with research assistance by Colorado Children’s Campaign, performed a national scan of state-level responses to child care needs during the pandemic. This page is dedicated to comparing Colorado’s response to key questions with other states across the country.

Are Child Care Centers Allowed to Stay Open?

On March 18, Governor Polis issued an executive order that required all schools in Colorado to “suspend normal, in-person instruction” from March 23 to April 17. This included public pre-kindergarten on public school campuses. Along with 32 other states and the District of Columbia, Colorado gives providers the option for child care providers to remain open. Like most states in the US, Colorado also mandated that everyone aside from essential workers stay at home during the pandemic.

This graphic provides key details about how essential worker is defined in Colorado and nationally.

Who Provides Emergency Care?

According to recent surveys from the Bipartisan Policy Center, 60% of providers closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and nearly two-thirds of parents who need child care are having difficulty finding it. Some states prioritized support to licensed child care centers that remained open to serve the families of essential workers, while others launched temporary emergency child care sites at hospitals, community centers, schools, and churches.

In Colorado, child care was identified as a critical service, allowing programs to continue operating under emergency status. Public and private partners across Colorado established an Emergency Child Care Collaborative to ensure that essential workers have access to child care. Emergency care through the Collaborative is available through May 24. While the Emergency Child Care tuition credit will no longer be available for care provided after May 24, families may qualify for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).

How is Emergency Care Funded?

The CARES Act provided states with supplemental funding for child care to help address the needs of working families and providers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and related shut-downs. States were given flexibility for how to use these funds, with each state addressing local and regional needs. Most states have also used federal Child Care Development Funds and state emergency relief funds to cover the costs of emergency care.

Colorado has used a combination of CARES Act dollars, Child Care Development Funds, and philanthropic donations to fund Emergency Child Care Collaborative and expand allowable payments from the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).

What Does Social Distancing Look Like in Child Care?

In late March the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released their Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open. The guidance included recommendations for procedures such as cloth or medical grade face covering for staff and older children, cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, and pick-up and drop-off procedures. Colorado, along with 30 other states, implemented social distancing requirements for child care centers and drastically limited maximum group sizes from pre-COVID-19 levels, as detailed by the Colorado Office of Early Childhood.

In addition to social distancing, Colorado child care providers are required to enforce mask requirements for all staff and children 3 years old and older, and limit interactions by utilizing curbside pick-up and drop-off.