Custer County is a remote community that sits in a beautiful valley between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Wet Mountains with a total population of a little more than 4,000. Local families often have limited access to services with one local health clinic operating on weekdays, the nearest hospital over 60 miles away, two licensed child care providers, and one preschool located within the single school district building serving preschool through grade 12. There are also active Amish and Mennonite communities resulting in a large home-school population and high prevalence of home births. Due to limited services and unique challenges it is often difficult to accurately assess the total number and overall needs young children within the community.
A dedicated group of community members recognized the importance of early childhood development and the limited availability of local services, resources, and supports for families. Together, they wanted to establish a countywide system to improve and support the health and well-being of local young children and their families. They were awarded a small grant from the Children’s Health Fund, a local fund supported by the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival and the Wet Mountain Valley Community Foundation to begin this important work. In fall 2017, key stakeholders formally established Custer County Kids Council and they joined Colorado’s statewide network of Early Childhood Councils.
With representatives from various sectors, including health, education, and community services, Custer County Kids Council used the Early Childhood Colorado Framework as a guide to develop a local strategic plan. Since the adoption of their strategic plan several accomplishments have been achieved:
- With collaboration by the local Department of Human Services and Department of Public Health, a nurse home visitation program for first-time moms through the Nurse-Family Partnership and Valley Wide Health Systems was established.
- The local 5Health Fair featured a “children’s corner” that provided hearing, vision, and dental screenings with the opportunity for fluoride varnish application to protect against cavities. The fair also featured physical fitness activities by the community fitness center and educational projects coordinated by the local library.
- The local Department of Public Health and the Custer County School District applied for and received a grant to support oral health screenings and follow up with young children in need.
- New programs to support parents have been initiated including a monthly preschool parent support meeting and Bright by Three parent education coordinated through Lighthouse Pregnancy Center.
Custer County Kids Council recently completed family and school district surveys to better identify gaps in services for local families. In collaboration with the local Department of Public Health the survey findings are to be presented to the County Commissioners.
“As a new Early Childhood Council there is so much to learn. With advice from other Councils across the state and our local partners we have received essential guidance to support our local young children and families,” Kathy Clark, Council Coordinator with Custer County Kids Council. As one of Colorado’s newest Early Childhood Councils, Custer County Kids Council understands the importance of local community partnerships for early childhood development and family support.
Learn more about Custer County Kids Council’s work to support young children and their families.