Health crisis exacerbates shortage of options in dozens of rural counties
TOPEKA — Economic disruption in Kansas associated with COVID-19 contributed to the demise of 115 family home child care providers in the pandemic’s first year and left nearly one-fifth of the state’s counties without child care slots for infants or toddlers, a new report said.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families collaborated with Child Care Aware of Kansas to release a survey Thursday of the pandemic’s influence on the state’s licensed family and group homes, care centers, preschools and Head Start facilities.
The downward trend among child care providers in Kansas operating from residential homes was evident before the pandemic. The total of this type of provider in Kansas crashed from 2,915 in 2017 to 2,419 in 2019 — a drop of nearly 500. The number was compressed to 2,259 in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic. In 2021, the state lost 115 more of these in-home providers, settling at 2,144. The report doesn’t include a census for 2022.
The closure of so many family child care providers since 2017 created stiffer competition for slots among Kansas families.
The report said the state’s collection of 2,000 licensed group homes, child care centers and Head Start programs held steady into 2021. The number of preschool programs declined from 163 in 2020 to 158 in 2021, the report said.
“This report highlights the challenges facing not only families and child care providers, but Kansas’ economy in general,” said Kelly Davydov, executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas. “Dependable, high-quality early care and education is a basic requirement that all working families need.”
Davydov said the “Know Better, Do Better” report was designed to help the state outline a strategy for expanding child care services.
The report said 21 of the state’s 105 counties in 2021 had no slots for toddlers and infants, an increase from 16 counties in that situation in 2020. Sixty counties in Kansas experienced fallout of having no providers of child care during evening, weekend and overnight hours.
Demand for care outstripped supply before the pandemic reached Kansas in March 2020, but the challenge of securing child care in rural counties intensified during the health calamity that has now infected nearly 790,000 and contributed to the death of 8,900.
The pandemic broaden complexities faced by parents searching for child care from staff capable of speaking a second language other than English and with personnel prepared to care for children with disabilities, the report said.
In 2020, the report said, 63,500 children in Kansas under age 5 had special needs related to disabilities. Of concern, the report said, was 35 rural counties in the state had three or fewer providers that acknowledged employing workers prepared to care for Down Syndrome children.
“We deeply appreciate the work of Child Care Aware of Kansas collecting data for the report,” said Laura Howard, secretary of the DCF agency.
The state passed out more than $40 million in federal relief dollars to child care providers struggling with loss of customers as parents stayed home from work and with higher operating costs associated with acquisition of pandemic supplies and materials necessary in a public health crisis.
The 2022 Legislature approved and Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bill expanding a state child care income tax credit. For the past decade, the state limited the tax credit to certain companies. The new law opened the incentive to all sorts of businesses in Kansas interested in helping workers solve the child care riddle.
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