Kansas Children’s Cabinet makes $582K investment in Lawrence child care

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TOPEKA — Community stakeholders are hopeful a grant of more than $500,000 for an early childhood education center in Lawrence will help meet the basic needs of families with young children and allow for improved workforce retention.

Community Children’s Center, a local nonprofit supporting early childhood education in Douglas County, received a $582,000 grant from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund to implement new strategies to increase the number of accessible, affordable, and available child care slots in Douglas County.

“Douglas County has a unique opportunity to bolster our early childhood infrastructure,” said Kim Polson, executive director of CCC. “It is our hope that this grant award is the foundation on which we can begin to build a new cross-sector, community investment in our early childhood system. Child care and education is pivotal for children, families, businesses, the economy and the future of Douglas County.”

According to the 2020 Kansas Children’s Cabinet Needs Assessment update, 67% of children ages 5 and younger in Kansas live in households where all adults are working. That means two-thirds of Kansas children need child care in a time where the pandemic has exacerbated accessibility issues and a workforce crisis.

While the number of child care centers was growing at a rate of 5.2% before the pandemic, family child care homes were decreasing at more than triple that rate of growth. A surge in closures resulted in 45 counties having less than 50% capacity for child care; 77 counties had more than 10 children in need of care; and 19 counties had no infant or toddler care.

Melissa Rooker, executive director of the Children’s Cabinet, said investing in early childhood centers is pivotal for the development of children in Douglas County and across Kansas.

“Investing in an early childhood center helps the workforce of today, but it’s also beneficial for the workforce of tomorrow,” Rooker said. “We see it as both an economic development issue as well as a healthy child development issue and, on both counts, it really matters.”

The children’s cabinet was created by the Legislature in 1999 to oversee expenditures from the tobacco settlement to improve the health of Kansas youths. The organization is tasked with aiding the governor in creating a system to serve children and families in Kansas, advising the governor and Legislature on the use of money credited to the Children’s Initiatives Fund, evaluating programs using fund money, and supporting child abuse prevention efforts.

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is supporting the project by offering a $10,000 match. Other community stakeholders include the Lawrence Public Library and Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

“Child care is no longer just a family issue, it’s a business issue,” said Bonnie Lowe, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “Investments in high quality, affordable early child care and education not only allow parents to return to work and be productive, but they also ensure the next generation of our workforce is prepared to be successful.”

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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