How Kansas Communities are Expanding Access to Child Care
Many think the child care system is too broken to change. Kansas communities are proving the naysayers wrong.
Small incremental changes on the local level are paving the way for larger shifts, and those advances are starting to add up across the state. For the past few years, Kansas communities have been collectively coming together to improve access to high-quality, accessible, and affordable early care and education. They have recognized that child care is essential to the economic well-being of both families and child care providers, who in turn are fundamental for robust and resilient state and national economies.
Quality Child Care Provides Opportunities
For decades, many have dismissed child care as simply a family issue. But now, more than ever, people are recognizing its significant economic implications. Communities and businesses are learning how the availability of quality child care directly impacts, not only their workforce today, but also the workforce of the future. Quality child care provides opportunities for children to develop skills that set the foundation for healthy outcomes and successful participation in the labor force of tomorrow.
A Look Into the Capacity-Building Process
In response to these developments, the Child Care Aware of Kansas Community Outreach and Engagement team has partnered with community stakeholders, providers, and families to build child care capacity in communities. By establishing and supporting local early childhood coalitions, we help communities build a creative space for innovative ideas, collaborations, and solutions for their local child care challenges. We’ve had the privilege to partner with members of various communities across the state to work through this four-pronged process of building child care capacity.
A Four-Step Process for Communities
Pre-Planning & Support
In the first step of the capacity-building process, our Community Outreach and Engagement coaches work alongside community coalitions to determine action steps. Our shared goal is to expand upon and enhance existing systems in communities.
Community coalitions are composed of members of chambers of commerce; county and city officials; representatives from school districts, health care, and businesses; faith-based partners; child care providers; and families — all of whom are dedicated to prioritizing child care in their respective communities.
Often, communities begin the process by seeking information on the child care landscape in their community, which can be found using the Child Care Aware of Kansas Point-In-Time data.
As local, grassroots efforts have grown, so too has the involvement of state and local early childhood advocates, members of commerce, and administrators. This coordination between the state and local levels has led to data-informed decision making, collaborative efforts, and authentic partnerships — which often result in ingenious, experimental solutions to a complex and evolving issue.
Step 2: Communities in Action
Once communities understand the challenges within their local child care landscape, they can begin setting goals and making detailed plans. To assist communities in this work, Child Care Aware of Kansas has developed the Communities In Action Workshop, which provides opportunities for community teams to:
- Learn from early childhood experts and other content experts from across the state’s early childhood system
- Receive customized child care supply/demand data
- Identify and develop short- and long-term goals during structured planning time with an expert community coach
- Receive a child care capacity toolkit
Step 3: Funding
In partnership with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, Child Care Aware of Kansas provides technical assistance and funding opportunities for communities working to address access to affordable, high-quality child care. We offer two different funding opportunities based on the community’s progress: Initial Child Care Coalition Building and Implementing Child Care Capacity-Building Plans.
Step 4: Follow-Up Support
After completing the workshop, communities receive ongoing support tailored to their particular readiness level, pace, and scale. While the experience is customized for each community, our ongoing follow-up support focuses on coalition-building and the strategic implementation of community plans — ensuring that communities reach the goals they set during their workshop.
As these communities make progress, our Community Outreach and Engagement team captures the lessons learned to share with other communities working to build child care capacity.
As a state, we are progressing toward more equitable outcomes for all.
Expanding access to quality, affordable child care is not impossible. We must challenge pernicious narratives about child care and imagine solutions beyond what we thought was possible. We must try to experiment, put something into play, and take note of the brilliance of the communities who know what they care about most.