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Survey of Kansas childcare facilities points to lingering challenges of COVID-19

TOPEKA — A new Kansas childcare survey highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch the thinning network of providers by exacerbating staff shortages, deepening financial challenges, and amplifying occupational stress and burnout.

Child Care Aware of Kansas and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, who both endorse the idea of investing public dollars in the system caring for children, partnered to gather input from providers across the state.

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The survey of daycare homes, group daycare homes and daycare centers — 29% of the state’s total — indicated facility operators were committed to extra cleaning, handwashing and temperature checks. More significant public health precautions, including vaccinations, the wearing of masks and social distancing, are less prevalent, the report said.

Less than half of providers were making certain that employees were vaccinated, while 61% were requiring staff to be tested after exposure to the virus. Only 4% of the state’s childcare providers were requiring regular COVID-19 testing as a precaution against spread of the deadly virus.

In the survey, 4 of 10 respondents said mandates by government would give them greater leverage to implement precautions against the coronavirus.

Forces tied to COVID-19 were leading operators of childcare centers or home-based programs to consider closing to seek other forms of income, the survey said.

“Sustaining quality childcare, particularly in rural communities, was a challenge before the pandemic,” said David Jordan, president and chief executive officer of the health fund at the United Methodist Health Ministry. “The pandemic is pushing staff, centers’ viability and the system to the brink.”

He said the pandemic made it more difficult to recruit workers and to operate centers. A consequence is that parents have greater obstacles to acquiring quality care, he said.

“We need to ensure centers have the resources to implement proven public health practices such as masking and vaccinations,” Jordan said.

Gov. Laura Kelly enacted social distancing, mass gathering and masking mandates early in the pandemic that began in March 2020, but much of that responsibility has been transferred to city and county officials.

Kansas has no vaccination mandate, but the administration of President Joe Biden has directed that federal government employees and workers at some businesses get a vaccine or be regularly tested. The Democratic president’s decision has been criticized by Republican lawmakers at the federal and state levels.

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In Kansas, a special committee of the Kansas Legislature was formed by Republican leaders in the House and Senate to explore government actions related to masking and vaccinations.

Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas, said that only 3% of the 105 counties in Kansas met childcare demand in 2020 prior to the pandemic.

“Child care is essential to our economy and to early childhood development. We need to be adding providers, not seeing them close their homes or centers,” Davydov said.

Survey participants said the potential of enduring the pandemic would be elevated with financial support tied to specific public-health mandates, including masking, testing and vaccinations. The stability of childcare providers in Kansas would be enhanced if workers in the field were paid better salaries, the survey said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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