Bright Futures executive director

In this July file photo, Kathleen Merritt, executive director of Bright Futures, and Clea Willow, program director for the nonprofit, speak at a public meeting about Ballot Issue 1A, an initiative to provide funding for child-care services. Voters approved the ballot measure, which centered around a new property tax, and now an Early Childhood Advisory Panel is being formed to develop a plan for spending the money. (Daily Planet file)

 

In September, funding for the federal Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program expired, leaving early child-care initiatives across the country in limbo.

The  program was first funded in 2008, created as a way to reach low-income families with the goals to “improve maternal and child health, prevent child abuse and neglect, encourage positive parenting, and promote child development and school readiness,” according to the Health Resources and Services Administration webpage (hrsa.gov). 

Here in San Miguel County, it has benefited families through the Parents as Teachers Program (PAT), which is administered by Bright Futures — a Telluride-based nonprofit that focuses on early childhood education in the county.

Bright Futures Executive Director Kathleen Merritt said the program serves approximately 100 children every year through in-home visitations. In addition to home visits, the program also facilitates group meetings centered on preparing children for school and healthy lives. 

“Through this service, approximately 150 children are served,” Merritt said. Families are being helped in San Miguel, Ouray and west Montrose counties. 

Merritt said the potential loss of funding “could very well put our PAT home visitation program, which serves children and families pre-natal until kindergarten, in jeopardy.” 

She explained that while PAT is funded through “a network of local and statewide nonprofits,” there will be a gap in financing if a bill isn’t passed in Congress soon. That’s because Bright Futures’ oversight organization — Denver-based Parent Possible — would take a financial hit. 

“(Parent Possible) offers an array of support from funding to technical assistance and support to assure this home visitation model is being implemented,” Merritt stated. “If Parent Possible loses its funding, the family support home visitation system as a whole could be weakened throughout Colorado.”

According to a Parent Possible news release, it has been three months since the program’s funding expired. 

“Congress has failed to reauthorize MIECHV, leaving vulnerable families uncertain if they will continue to receive these services,” the release states. 

Parent Possible is asking for a five-year extension of the funding to continue administering its PAT program and the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program, which also is funded by the MIECHV. 

The news release states that close to 4,000 children across the state benefit from the MIECHV-funded programs. 

On the upside, it appears that many members of Congress do support a continuation of the program; the question is, when will they sign a bill into action?

A bill to extend funding has passed the House of Representatives, but with few votes from Democrats. According to the Brookings Institute, Democrats largely voted against the passage because of a requirement that states would have to start providing matching funds — something that wasn’t required in the past. 

The bill is now awaiting passage in the Senate. In the meantime, funding remains up in the air. 

In other regional child-care news, formation of an Early Childhood Advisory Panel is in the early stages. The panel will be in charge of distributing funds created by the Early Child Care and Education property tax that was passed by San Miguel County voters in November. The tax is expected to raise approximately $616,890 annually for programming. 

According to Merritt, both the Norwood and Telluride school districts will appoint a member to the panel, along with a Board of County Commissioners county liaison (a commissioner) and a county resident “member-at-large” seat. 

Merritt said the community seat will be advertised — starting in January — with the hope of establishing a panel by February. The group’s first meeting is expected to take place in March.