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Colorado Is Leveraging American Rescue Plan Funds for Babies

In early 2023, ZERO TO THREE interviewed eight states to understand how they are leveraging American Rescue Plan Act funding to meet the needs of infants, toddlers and their families.

This article describes Colorado’s efforts.

Engaging Stakeholders

Addressing the needs of infants, toddlers and their families emerged as a key component of Colorado’s approach to utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) resources. One of the factors leading to this robust focus on babies was Colorado’s commitment to intentional and meaningful engagement of stakeholders, including families and providers, to inform decisions about how best to use ARPA dollars.

The state held a series of listening sessions and surveys with early childhood providers and families conducted in partnership with Early Milestones Colorado. The family survey was translated into seven languages (Arabic, Burmese, English, French, Karen, Nepali and Spanish). Working with a partner organization that had trusting relationships within communities allowed for deeper engagement of stakeholders than would likely have been possible if the outreach had been conducted by state agencies alone.

Colorado was also able to leverage existing mechanisms for engagement, including the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (Colorado’s federally recognized state advisory council), the Family Voice Council convened by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood and relationships with partners such as state advocates and the Family Child Care Association. Multiple pathways for stakeholder engagement contributed to a nuanced portrait of the challenges faced by families and communities in the context of the pandemic. The urgency of addressing the needs of babies and their families was a theme that came through clearly.

Addressing the Needs of Infants and Toddlers

Colorado bucketed expenditures of state and federal stimulus funding, including ARPA, into three categories. Within these categories, there are many broad activities that benefit infants and toddlers, as well as the following specifically targeted strategies:

  • Family Strengthening
    • Funding to expand access to home visiting programs and parent support programs.
    • Expanded supports through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, including purchasing grocery store cards for distribution to families, making available the technology necessary for virtual visits and support for home visitors by providing funds for one year of Enhanced Home Visiting training and support through Parent Possible.
    • Increasing access to evidence-based health and mental health programs, including The Incredible Years®, the Pyramid model and Conscious Discipline. Early childhood providers may opt in to training and coaching provided by intermediary organizations.
    • Adding five new infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) consultant positions to expand access to consultation for early childhood professionals to promote children’s early social-emotional development. An additional 10 IECMH consultant positions were funded using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) funding —for a combined total of 15 new positions supported by federal COVID relief dollars.
  •  Supporting the Early Care and Education Workforce
  • Developing a strategic plan to improve the data available on the early childhood workforce and the supply and demand for infant/toddler and nontraditional-hour child care.
  • Ensuring All Families Have Equitable and Easy Access
    • Community Innovation and Resilience for Care and Learning Equity (CIRCLE) grants to child care providers and other community, education or governmental providers, with a priority of addressing the lack of infant and toddler child care.
    • Funding to support increased availability and outreach regarding access to child care, especially for infants and toddlers, through outreach to providers and parents and the gathering and reporting of real-time supply data.
    • Funding for local family child care home navigators to connect providers to support and resources in recognition that Colorado has seen a decline in family child care providers, which disproportionately impacts availability of care for infants and toddlers.
    • Paying child care providers who accept infants and toddlers participating in the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program on a monthly basis, based on enrollment rather than attendance.
    • Increasing access to Early Head Start by working with providers with a track record of success delivering Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership services to expand the number of slots available.
    • Bonuses for programs serving infants and toddlers that improve their quality as measured by the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System.

Centering Equity

Colorado’s approach to utilizing ARPA funding was grounded in a commitment to equity. One aspect of this is the rich stakeholder engagement described above. Another aspect is the ongoing practice of holding a focus on equity in conversations and decisions, which was aided by the presence of such key state agency staff positions as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager and a state Tribal Liaison.

An example of centering equity in practice was the development and implementation of a language justice policy in the course of ARPA implementation to ensure that resources were not only translated, but also made available at the same time as English language resources to ensure equitable access to information and opportunities.

Another important way that equity is showing up in Colorado is transparency. The state’s decision to create a comprehensive array of materials clearly outlining ARPA strategies, expenditures and opportunities supports equitable access to resources as well as accountability. It also supports the development of more trusting relationships between state agencies and partners. A data dashboard currently under development will allow for an even more nuanced picture of how ARPA resources are being deployed in communities, as well as the ability to track key outcomes.

Navigating Challenges

As is the case in other states, Colorado navigated a variety of challenges in implementing ARPA activities. These included the complexity of moving funds quickly through government systems, as well as a lack of state and local system capacity. Colorado also experienced significant administrative changes during this period, with the state currently in the process of transitioning to a newly created Department of Early Childhood. Lastly, the one-time nature of ARPA funds raises difficult questions regarding sustainability. In order to foster intentional and transparent decision-making, the Colorado Department of Early Childhood is committed to developing and activating a sustainability framework that can guide the agency in determining which initiatives should be sustained and how.

Additional ARPA Resources

Interested in learning more about how states are using ARPA to support babies? Visit our landing page to read the summary brief, “States Are Leveraging ARPA to Move the Needle for Infants and Toddlers,” and the full series of state articles (featuring Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin).


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