By CRISTINA JANNEY
At a meeting last week, the Child Care Task Force of Ellis County shared the insights members gleaned from a series of focus groups.
Finding locations for child care centers is not an issue, but supporting and recruiting providers, and regulatory hurdles are, according to people who attended the focus groups.
Sarah Wasinger, task force member, shared the information with the rest of the task force.
Ellis County would need 640 additional child care spots to reach full capacity.
Several participants who attended the faith-based focus group said their churches have spaces that could be available for child care and their churches would be interested in partnering with providers in some way, Wasigner said.
Wasinger said the Hays Chamber could act as a contact point for providers who might be interested in partnering with one of these faith groups.
“Because we have the ties to KDHE and Child Care Aware of Kansas, [the chamber] can then connect them with resources on the different things they can access,” Wasinger said of potential providers.
The faith-based participants shared Centennial Plaza and Epworth Towers could be good places to look toward for creating foster grandparent programs.
They also brought up Lincoln Elementary School, which is set to be closed once construction on several Hays USD 489 bond projects is completed.
State law would prohibit young children from being housed on the second floor of the building, and Wasinger said there are also limitations to a building that is almost 100 years old. The group discussed bringing modular buildings onto the land. A provider could use the playground that already exists at that location.
The provider focus group participants discussed some of the challenges of waiting lists.
Bright Minds Academy has a waiting list of 20 to 25 children. The baby room is booked through 2025.
Staffing continues to be a challenge because workers can make more money working in the fast food industry, Wasinger said.
Bright Minds also raised concerns about the need to raise tuition. Caregivers need to make livable wages, but providers don’t want to charge prices that parents can’t afford, Wasinger said.
Child care workers are required to take a two-week online health and safety course. Providers said it would help if that training could be provided for free. Offering free CPR and first-aid classes on a regular basis could also be an incentive to recruit new child-care workers.
Providers expressed frustration with the bureaucracy. Wasinger said it can be months between certification and when a home can open.
Provider and task force member Andrea Hoss said she would like the state to issue emergency orders to allow child-care homes or centers to care for more children.
Hoss said our community is in a crisis. The community has first responders who can’t go to work because they don’t have child care, she said.
Legislators are often unaware of the child care regulatory hurdles, said Donna Hudson-Hamilton, task force member and director of Early Childhood Connections. She said it is up to providers and members of the task force to educate legislators.
State Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, has attended some task force meetings, but she was not at the November meeting.
Brett Schmidt, provider, said the power to change regulations lies with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He said suggestions should be brought to that agency.
The providers also suggested trying to get business or accounting students to help providers with their bookkeeping. They also discussed the possibility of the task force applying for a grant to purchase business management software for providers or pooling resources to obtain discounts on licenses.
Providers have had continued discussions of trying to get a restaurant or caterer to work with providers to produce meals for children in care.
Employers said they saw lost productivity if a parent had to bring a child to work because of lack of care. Some employees have been unsure if they will return to work after maternity leave because they don’t know if they will be able to secure child care.
During the educators’ focus group a representative from Tiger Tots child care said that center had a year to year and a half waiting period.
The group discussed a hospital in another community that offers child care for sick children.
Hudson-Hamilton said she is still working to establish a child care accreditation track at Hays High School.
The group talked about tapping into retired teachers as potential child care providers.
The task force also discussed organizing quarterly education presentations for providers. They hoped this would also be time providers could offer each other support. The task force is interested in finding sponsors for these meetings so it could provide meals.
The task force has received a $30,000 matching grant from the Robert E. and Patricia A. Schmidt Foundation to use toward a child care awareness campaign. The task force received $15,000 toward the match from the Ellis County Commission plus donations from other charitable groups and businesses. It still needs $3,800 to garner the full Schmidt Foundation match.
The Schmidt Foundation will still honor the match dollar-for-dollar even if the full $30,000 is not raised, Wasinger said. If the task force doesn’t receive the full $30,000 match, it will reduce its spending on the campaign.
The task force hopes to begin the year-long campaign in January.
Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay