Getting young children off to a fast start in life is critical to their later development as adults, and such public agencies as the County Department of Human Services (DHS) and the South Central Council of Governments (SCCOG) are trying to help foster quality child care in Las Animas County.

The Las Animas County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the allocation of $85,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant funding from the state’s DHS Colorado Works program to SCCOG’s Early Learning Center (ELC), located at 1225 Rosita Ave. at the Board’s Tuesday, July 2 regular meeting.

DHS Director Arlene Lopez said the TANF grant-funding program started approximately four years ago with the passage of the federal House Bill-1321. The county was fortunate to obtain a state DHS grant from the program for its infants and toddlers program, because many parents with young children do not understand the true costs of getting quality child care services for their children.

“We had the good fortune to have that funding for a couple of years and then it got cut and eventually went away,” she said. “Las Animas County graciously stepped in and asked us to try to acquire that funding through the state through TANF, which is primarily the program that we work with. Through the TANF program we were able to get $85,000 in 2018. We were able to facilitate the minimum wage increase, which is substantial with a large staff of 25 or so childcare workers.

“We were able to get three workers in a classroom for the infants and toddlers program for 10 days to help children between the ages of one and two, which is a feat in itself. It takes three people to administer that.”

Lopez noted that DHS was also able to get a better doorway with greater accessibility at the ELC Learning Center, an important improvement in infrastructure and student safety at the center. “This year we will again have that minimum wage increase for staff,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to also encourage our long term staff to get salary increases. That’s fine, because we have some very special people working for us.”

She also said that the recent influx of population in the county has also increased the need for greater childcare services, and it helped to have more personnel on hand to serve that need. She said DHS was also looking hard to for a social worker. “We believe that with all these issues with special needs children, we can curb those issues between the ages of one and five. A new social worker could also help with issues in the schools and in the workforce.”

Security issues were also a concern, she said and she thanked the County Board for maintaining its interest in childcare education issues through the years. She noted that DHS and the ELC served 120 young students at any one time throughout each year, and that in her 21 years of service, more than 2,000 students had been helped in their development through childcare services.

Commissioner Luis Lopez II said the county needed more direct services for young children, to give kids of ages one through five a strong, stable foundation that would help them throughout their lives. Lopez II also noted the pressing need for more DHS mental healthcare professionals.

In other action at the meeting, the Board unanimously approved a resolution approving a telecommunications tower application by Black and Veatch, a company that started business in 1915, for an AT&T facility with a 250-square-foot imprint on land currently owned by the U.S. Department of Defense. The tower would improve area broadband and Information Technologies services.

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