Originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.
American businesses today face extraordinary challenges locating and hiring skilled workers. In fact, 74 percent of hiring managers surveyed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation agreed there is a lack of qualified talent. The same hiring managers rated worker retention and recruitment as their top two goals for 2020.
So why should employers make child care their business? And why should they make investing in infant and toddler child care a priority? Any parent of a young child will tell you child care is one of their single biggest considerations when it comes to accepting a job or staying with a job.
Child care is expensive. It is difficult to find. And when it comes to finding and paying for child care, infant and toddler care is the hardest to find and it is the most expensive. Why?
The reason is straight forward: Infants and toddlers require more specialized caregiver attention than older children — therefore, to increase the number of infants and toddlers in a child care program you also need to increase the number of qualified caregivers to maintain the necessary adult-to-child ratios. The result is limited spaces available, higher staffing costs for child care businesses, and higher prices for families.
Research from Child Care Aware® of Kansas shows these assertions hold true in Kansas. Its new publication, 2019 Child Care Supply Demand Report: Exploring the Infant Toddler Gap, shows child care for infants and toddlers is scarce. The lack of infant and toddler spaces is so great that in 77 percent of Kansas’ counties there are more than 10 children between 0-3 years old competing for a single child care space. Taken in reverse, that means 9 out of every 10 infants and toddlers who need child care go without. Consequently, working families are left scrambling to cobble together a patchwork, child care solution.
On top of availability, quality child care mat- ters to working parents. Not all child care is the same. Quality child care gives working families the peace of mind they need to be productive at work, knowing that their baby is safe in the care of a trusted professional. What’s more, 80 percent of brain development occurs in the first 3 years of life — the early experiences of infants and toddlers therefore have a life-long effect.
Unfortunately, Kansas is behind the majority of U.S. states when it comes to offering statewide quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) for child care. While there is a pilot project developing, as of 2017 Kansas was one of just 10 states without a statewide program. QRIS is a valuable mechanism to systematically improve the quality of child care through training and technical assistance, while also offering a dependable tool for families to determine which programs meet the highest levels of quality.
Finally, infant and toddler care might be out of reach due to the high price. According to Child Care Aware of America, the average annual price of child care in Kansas for an infant in a child care center is $12,584, while it is $7,384 in a family child care home. The price nearly doubles when you add a second, older child to the equation. For married couples, the expense is more than burdensome. And for single parents, it simply can be overwhelming.