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Kansas Families Struggle to Find Child Care, According to Annual Kids Count Report


By Sam Bailey, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA, Kan. — Child care challenges have forced Kansas parents to give up or change jobs, while child care workers are paid worse than 98% of professions, according to a new report.

Kansas Action for Children released information about Kansas child care and other youth-focused topics on Wednesday, taken from the 2023 Kids Count Data Book created by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The data book examines children’s health care, economic well-being and education by state.

Kansas is losing child care providers faster than it is gaining new ones, said Sarah Elsen, executive director of Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas.

Child Care Aware helps parents find child care from a list of available providers in their system, as well providing training and resources to child care professionals.

“I was talking to my resource and referral manager earlier today,” Elsen said, “and she was saying that she had a mother who called looking for child care referrals and she was just in tears on the phone because she had called 20 people and all 20 people were full and not accepting them.”

In 2020-2021, 12% of Kansas children ages 5 and younger lived in homes where a caretaker has “quit, changed, or refused a job” because of issues with child care, the study said.

The shortage harms both children and parents, said Logan Stenseng, Zero To Thrive project leader. Zero To Thrive is a statewide advocacy coalition addressing child care in rural communities.

“We have parents staying at home because they can’t afford care, and so this also turns into an economic development issue, because we also have new industry coming to Kansas at record rates,” Stenseng said. “And one of the issues that they’re facing is, will they have enough quality, stainable child care slots and capacity to serve their workforce?”

The average cost for a toddler in center-based child care in Kansas was $8,000 a year, according to the data book. In a two-parent household, this takes 8% of the median income. It takes 26% of a single parent’s income.

“It’s extremely difficult for a two-income family to pay for child care, let alone a one-income family,” Elsen said.

Parents are not the only ones struggling with child care. According to the data book, child care workers are paid worse than 98% of professions, including retail and customer service workers. In 2022, a full-time Kansas child care worker made about $11 an hour.

Early childhood education serves as the foundation of many things in society, such as creating successful citizens and allowing parents to feel secure in the safety of their children, said Jessica Herrera Russell, senior communications manager at Kansas Action for Children. Ninety percent of brain development occurs before age 5, according to First things First.

“Everybody interacts with different parts of the community every day, from driving on our roads, going to grocery stores and things like that, and so we want to be able to build up our communities, and we need future generations of Kansans to be able to do that,” Herrera Russell said.

While Stenseng said the child care crisis doesn’t seem to be easing in Kansas, he is optimistic about the future.

“We all have a role to play in leaving that legacy for the next generation and for investing in this critical piece of public infrastructure for our communities to thrive,” he said. “And so that’s, I really do feel that energy in the state, and I’m excited to see and to work alongside both in making it happen.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation uses the data it collects to rank states in four categories: economic well-being, health, family and community and education. These rankings indicate how states compare in child well-being.

Kansas ranked seventh in economic well-being, but ranked 22nd, 24th and 26th respectively in the other categories.

Kansas ranked 17th overall in the data book.