By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications
The Finney County Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors on Wednesday heard an update concerning the organization’s roadmap for addressing the community’s childcare needs
FCEDC has been working with childcare professionals and organizations in the community for more than two years about childcare. With the recent closure of Community Day Care, the issue has garnered more urgency but FCEDC continues to work toward the goal of implementing a systemic, sustainable solution.
Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said FCEDC is seeking a public-private partnership that would allow for the creation of a childcare network that would provide oversight and operation of future centers, and provide a support system the entire childcare and early learning network, which could include home providers, faith-based centers and school district centers.
“We really feel it’s important we have the buy-in from both private employers as well as the public sector. It truly is a problem that impacts all of us,” DuVall said.
Private versus ‘grass roots’
Initially, one option considered was to find a private sector organization that could come in and offer childcare. However, researching that option found that the least expensive care would cost $240 to $300 per week per child, a price point much more expensive than what parents currently pay locally and also well above the state average of nearly $200 per week.
“We knew that would be a significant challenge and probably wouldn’t solve the problem for most of our workers. Instead, we opted to look at a grass-roots solution, if you will, and bring our partners together,” DuVall said.
Also, she said, the grass-roots effort is the best way to go because the community has a lot of excellent childcare and early childhood experts which will provide a much stronger solution in the end compared to bringing in an outsider to provide that care.
Shannon Dick, FCEDC lead strategic analyst, told the board that according to a study conducted in 2012, Finney County had a demand for nearly 1,800 childcare spots but only a little more than 1,300 spots were available, leaving a shortage of about 485 spots. More recent statistics indicated the shortage has grown to about 700 children who need daycare.
Based on information from Russell Child Development Center, Dick said the number of childcare providers who access a federal food program has been cut in half over the past 14 years.
Providers participating in the program, whether it’s a center or home-based provider, could receive reimbursement for those expenses. Dick said according to RCDC, which works in a 10-county area, the number of providers using the program dropped from 170 in 2004 to 100 by 2013 and just 88 as of this year.
The drop in providers using the program is not because childcare demand is being met, but is more likely the result of a change in state and federal regulations.
Dick said home daycare providers used to be either licensed or registered. Registered providers had some regulatory requirements but not as extensive as licensed providers. Several years ago the state eliminated registered daycares so all providers now must be licensed, which is a much stricter regulatory environment that caused many home daycare providers to exit the industry.
“Another issue is we’ve been growing at the same time. So as it gets harder to find childcare, we’ve been growing so there are more kids. That’s another reason for the disparity (in demand versus unmet need),” he said.
Dick said the average cost of childcare in Kansas is around $200 per week per child for non-profit providers, and $300 or more per week per child in for-profit childcare centers.
“The average cost we’re paying in Finney County is significantly below that,” Dick said. Locally, the cost ranges between $100 and $165 per week.
In response to a question about how many daycare centers are needed to meet the need, Dick said it’s a complicated question to answer due to differences in regulations regarding infants and toddlers. However, current projections indicate building 6 to 7 small format centers, serving less than 60 children each, could allow the community to meet as much need as possible.
Providing adequate childcare is not only important from a workforce perspective but also from the perspective of getting children learning, reacting and interacting with the world around them as early as possible.
“One of the real positives we’re going to see from this is because of the approach we’ve taken —incorporating our school district, early childhood specialists, the community college — we’re going to have the opportunity to impact the workforce forevermore because we’re going to give these kids the opportunity to be better prepared when they enter kindergarten,” DuVall said.
Employers are becoming more attuned to the need to provide childcare in order to attract and retain quality employees. DuVall said FCEDC, which pitching the public-private partnership to the private sector employers, can demonstrate how much the lack of childcare costs a business in lost productivity and in workers who had to exit the workforce entirely because they couldn’t find childcare.
“You don’t have to be a large employer to see a benefit. If you have employees … with growing families, you’re being impacted whether you know that or not,” DuVall said. “What we’ve discovered is a lot of people don’t tell their employer why they’re not able to come to work, they just take a sick day … because they didn’t have childcare available on that day.”
FCEDC has met with representatives of public partners. Now it’s ready to start having discussions with private employers about the proposed network. DuVall said any employer interested in childcare should feel free to contact FCEDC to schedule a meeting.
“We can really drill it down directly to the business so they can see for themselves. They can see, ‘this is what it costs us to not have a solution.’ We can have a one-time commitment that solves it and it only takes us one year or two years or three years to pay that investment off, if you will,” she said.