The number of children needing child care in Dickinson County was estimated at 365 last year.
That’s far above the 25 that will need to find other care givers when Learn & Grow limits its clients to employees of Memorial Health System, owners of the facility.
However, it was the Learn & Grow news that sparked an interest in the need for child care. A community event hosted Wednesday night at Sterl Hall by the Dickinson County Economic Development Corporation attracted about 50 people representing community members, child care providers, school representatives and surprisingly only a few parents.
Memorial Health System sent out letters to 12 families representing 25 kids in early October that said Learn & Grow will no longer accept those children at the start of the new year.
The reason given for the downsizing was not being able to find licensed teachers who must have teaching experience in a licensed center or preschool for a year, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regulations.
Child Care Aware of Kansas, a program in the Kansas Department of Children and Families, estimated in 2018 that 861 children were in need of child care in the county and 493 was the desired capacity, leaving 386 without care.
Chuck Scott, director of the economic corporation, said employers are telling him there is a need for more child care.
“There is a bigger need than what people recognize,” he said. “It is not a 10 or 20 person need. We are talking in the 300s of children out there that we need to provide a place for.”
He said even if there is a place for over 100, there are still hundreds more needing care.
“It limits my ability to get companies here,” he said.
Scott said there are employees that are staying home to take care of children.
“Our employer now has lost an employee,” he said. “We know this is going on and not just at entry level wages. We have middle level people that we know right now are looking at leaving the workforce because of day care.”
Tanya Koehn with Child Care Aware said the need for child care is statewide.
“This is not just a Dickinson County issue,” she said. “There are meetings like this all over happening.”
Koehn said there is not single answer.
“If I had an answer I could quit my job,” she said. “I will say it over, and over again. I can’t cookie cutter the answer. Communities are not built the same. Your community isn’t the same as Garden City who is also trying to figure it out.”
She said Phillipsburg built a new child care center to help with the issue.
“We have rural and urban communities and everybody’s issue is different. Your care might be different,” she said. “It will take a community. You can check with Phillipsburg and see what they did.”
According to a Kansas News Service story published in the Reflector-Chronicle on Oct. 29, a cross-section of Phillipsburg residents pitched in to transform an old convenience store into a child care center built to the state’s exacting licensure standards. To help with the costs, they hustled up a grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.
Koehn said representatives of about 10 communities visited Phillipsburg.
“Communities aren’t the same. If you go to Salina, they are working on this child care issue there, too,” she said. “I would love to give you an answer, ‘Hey if you do this, you are going to fix it.’ You can’t do just one thing.”
“We are going to have to get creative for short-term and creative for long-term, and it’s going to take a community, and yes, it is going to involve some legislation and we are going to have to advocate for, ‘You have got to help us out,’ if we have delayed time getting fingerprinting and background checks and so on,” Scott said. “We do have something that we can at least express is a concern from a community and a provider standpoint.”
David Vilcot said a group is working to get licensed to open a child care for 100 children at LifeHouse Church.
“We are in the middle of it,” he said. “Our biggest need right now are teachers. We are looking at a competitive wage for the lead teachers in the room and all the assistants. Honesty, we are starting from the ground up. Our goal, which seems to be attainable, is Jan. 1.”
He said the facility appears to meet state regulations.
“Right now it’s just paperwork, stuff that is out of our hands,” he said.
Robin Hansen with the Abilene Childcare Learning Center said the center has applied for a license to expand.
She said the facility currently provides for 59 children and intends to expand to 69 by the first of the year.
“That’s just a short-term thing to try to take some of the families that are being displaced immediately,” she said. “Most of those are infants and toddlers because infants and toddlers is the age group that we get the most calls for.”
She said that infant and toddler care also takes more staff per child.
“It isn’t as cost effective to have infants and toddlers and hardly any preschoolers. You have to have a good balance,” Hansen said. “So we are trying to add more infants and toddlers at our center.”
She said in the future the Learning Center might extend services to another facility or add on to the current building that could hold 45 to 60 children. She said the Learning Center will celebrate 40 years in business in January.
“It won’t happen immediately but, hopefully, soon,” she said.
Hansen said she has hired more lead teachers.
She said assistants can work provisionally with other teachers in the same room.
“They have to be in line of sight of another teacher at all times,” she said. “That gets a little tricky sometimes because the other teachers in the room can’t even go into the bathroom because the other teacher isn’t qualified yet.”
Troy Leith with Leadership Dickinson County said an objective of the meeting was to form a task force of five to 10 people to address child care issues.
“Anyone willing to participate, we are willing to step in and help you with some structure, some resources, some skills, a format on how to move forward,” he said of the organization. “This didn’t come up overnight and it is not going to be solved overnight. I think it is a big enough topic that the community would like to see progress on it.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.