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Early Learning Study Identifies the Needs for Valley’s Young Children
Monday, February 13, 2023


Nearly 70 percent of surveyed stay-at-home parents would return to the work force if they had affordable, quality child care. And another 20 percent might.

That’s one of the findings of a Needs Assessment survey recently undertaken by the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative, which is trying to strategize to close the education gap for young children.

The collaborative was formed with the help of the Wood River Women’s Foundation first-ever Focus Grant to the Boise-based Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. The AEYC is bringing together stakeholders in 22 communities across the state to try to expand access and affordability of quality early learning programs.

The needs assessment gathered data about existing services and the reasons families may be having trouble accessing services. It also identified opportunities to increase access, said Louisa Moats, a member of the WRWF. It will be used to formulate a strategic plan to increase access for Blaine County families.

Research indicates that children with access to quality childcare and early learning opportunities have better overall education, earn higher wages and have improved health outcomes as adults, said Sarah Seppa, with St. Luke’s Center for Community Health.

Laura Rose-Lewis, who heads up I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho, concurred: “We’ve known when children arrive ready for school how much more success they can have. It’s a big challenge when they’re starting behind.”

Readiness for education includes the ability to look at a pile of blocks and identify how many there are, as well as the ability to express language, cooperate, play with peers, share, take turns and be patient, said James Foudy, Blaine County School District superintendent.

It also includes the ability to sit, collaborate, be curious, take risks, engage with others, focus on identifying symbols and have the stamina to last a day, said Janet Salvoni, head of elementary for the Sun Valley Community School.

“If these foundational pieces are in place, other things follow,” she added.

There are 200 3- and 4-year-olds in the county. The goal is to have all 5-year-olds feel like they belong, know they belong, feel like part of the class and have something to contribute, said Foudy.

“A child’s perception of school is formed the first week of school--it doesn’t take years, it takes days,” he added. “And many feel disenfranchised from the beginning.”

Foudy suggested that there are a variety of options that could be looked at, including an early childhood development center that offers students at Wood River High School and Silver Creek High School the chance to work with young children. Another could include partnerships with universities that provide best practices in early learning.

Thirteen of 17 providers completed the survey, according to Salvoni. Sixty-seven percent of them were in the South Valley.

Those who responded say they care for about 300 children with more than 90 on waiting lists. Families can sit on the waitlist for a minimum of 12 to 18 months, said Salvoni.

In addition, there is little in the way of care options for families before 8 and after 5, even though many jobs in the valley do not fit the 9-to-5 schedule, said Kathryn Ivers, the project lead for the Wood River Valley Collaborative. Thirty-six percent of the families surveyed need care before 8 a.m. and/or after 5 p.m. on weekdays; 12 percent need care options on weekends.

No provider offers care on weekends; only 15 percent offer care before 8 a.m. and/or after 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Consequently, more than half of the children in the area are currently in informal care settings, being cared for by family members or friends. Licensed childcare professionals are taking care of 46 percent of the children through 5 years; family members, 29 percent; babysitters, 12 percent; nannies, 7 percent, and friends, 6 percent.

Carey does not have any providers, according to the study.

“We’ve had to pull back our child care to 4:30 because we can’t find staff,” said Salvoni, referring to the Sun Valley Community School’s Early Childhood Center. “We have staff members who have to leave then to go to second jobs in restaurants.”

Some childcare workers have to work two jobs because the hourly pay for childcare workers ranges from $13 to $29 an hour with the average hourly pay being $19 an hour. That leads to a high staff turnover.

Most families are unable to pay more than $30 a day per child, but providers can’t make ends meet without charging at least $40 a day per child, the needs assessment determined.

The monthly cost of programs range from $800 to $1,440 per month for one child. The two least expensive providers charge $40 a day per child; some programs have additional costs, including late pick-up fees.

Multi-child discounts are offered by 54 percent of providers, and 23 percent have a scholarship program. Only one provider accepts payment through government programs, such as the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.

On the plus side, 85 percent of providers are open to growing their programs with a larger facility. And 70 percent of stay-at-home parents surveyed said they would return to work outside the home if quality, affordable childcare was available. Twenty percent said “maybe.”

Marten Balben, project director for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, said Valley County—home to the tourist towns of McCall and Cascade—has an economic development organization that has landed grants to expand private-based care. And a collaborative in American Falls is providing near-universal access just due to the political will of the community, he added.

 Collaboratives could also work with a Wonderschool software program that offers training and three years of startup support for early education, he suggested: “It takes the business end out of it so the staff can focus on childcare.”

Salvoni noted that lack of affordable accessible childcare means that businesses can’t find employees because employees can’t find child care. She said the committee wants to identify properties that might be used for day care. She added that she and others would like to increase professional development among child care providers.

“A lot of people think it wouldn’t take a lot of training to watch over children, but it’s actually the opposite of that,” she said. “In addition, we want to look at things like: How can we help them become more savvy business owners? A lot may care deeply about children. But maybe they didn’t go to school for business training.”


    In 2021 the county had 24,766 residents. Children through 17 constituted 4,919 of those; 5 to 9 years, 3,904; and 0 to 4, 1,015.


    The 2022 median household income is $86,735; the per capita income, $40,739.


    Sun Valley: White-83 percent; Hispanic-10 percent.

    Ketchum: White-87 percent; Hispanic-9 percent.

    Hailey: White-65 percent; Hispanic-32 percent.

    Bellevue: White-64 percent; Hispanic-31 percent

    Carey: White-48 percent; Hispanic-52 percent.

    Twenty-three percent of households have some language other than English spoken at home as of 2022.

  • POPULATION LIVING IN POVERTY as of 2022: 1,772 or 7 percent.

    0-17 years: 400 or 8 percent.

    5-17 years: 272 or 7 percent

    0-4 years: 128 or 13 percent.


Seventy-one percent of businesses have 11 or more employees that regularly use childcare services. Only 18 percent of business provide financial assistance for families needing childcare services. Staff often have to arrive late or leave early to accommodate childcare.

To see the report, go to


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