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Blogger | Child Care
By Annie McKay
KAC President and CEO
Today, bi-partisan leaders of the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee introduced a new proposal to tackle unintended consequences created by welfare restrictions enacted in 2015 and 2016. The “SOAR” Act (Strategic Opportunities to Achieve Results) offers a handful of commonsense ideas, but two components really excite us at Kansas Action for Children:
•Exempts parents attending school or work training from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) strict hourly work requirements and a 24-month lifetime limit for child care assistance eligibility. This means Kansas moms and dads can focus on their education with the peace of mind that their children have access to child care – even if their program exceeds 24-months.
•Exempts single mothers of infants from TANF work requirements for 12 months after giving birth, protecting the health of both mom and baby while saving Kansas thousands in costly infant child care assistance.
This is really good policy.
Although the “HOPE” Acts may have been well intentioned, political eagerness to enact welfare restrictions on adults overshadowed the “trickle down” consequences for children.
The numbers speak for themselves:
- Ten years ago, in 2007, Kansas had 100,000 poor kids. In 2015 (the most recent data available), there were 122,000 poor kids – an increase of 22 percent.
- During that same time period, more than 18,000 Kansas children lost access to cash assistance (from an average of 26,633 children per month in 2007 to 8,621 children in December 2016 – a 67.6 percent decrease). The Kansas Department for Children and Families makes no data available to monitor how children losing those services fare afterwards.
- According to the most recent federal data, only 10.6% of TANF families’ (ie, families with children) left the program because the family found employment. Those who did report employment earned an average of just $13,524 annually. Furthermore, Kansas’ own data shows that 60% of parents who leave TANF are unemployed just a few months later (See page 233). Without a safety net, these children could potentially be left in households with zero income.
The SOAR Act puts Kansas parents in a much more strategic position to permanently address these circumstances. Self-reliance requires opportunity. Kansas not only ranked 7th worst in job growth in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. Parents must acquire training and education to truly move ahead, but they cannot pursue those opportunities without child care. Lifting restrictions on child care assistance for these moms and dads is a smart, two-generational approach to reducing poverty.
Secondly, the SOAR Act confronts a serious problem with the current system by acknowledging the critical and costly needs of Kansas babies. Infancy is a particularly crucial time in a child’s development that requires stability and security. No baby born in our state should be denied this just because a family lives in poverty. Additionally, infant care is incredibly expensive and beyond the reach of low-income families who don’t have assistance. Maternity leave and child care assistance will not only create stronger families, it’s a much more cost effective option for the state.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Kansan who supports the continued suffering of our state’s most vulnerable children. The SOAR Act is about those children – babies, toddlers and little kids – and helping improve the conditions under which they grow so they can reach higher and achieve more later in life.
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By Amanda Gress
Director of Government Relations
In 2014, Congress passed landmark legislation to improve and expand high-quality child care. It was a really big deal.
Afterward, two national child policy experts came to Kansas to talk to stakeholders about the new law. They challenged us to “envision Kansas’ ideal child care system.”
I remember writing that down and thinking, “Wow. What an opportunity!”
However, passing a law is just the first step of turning a vision into reality. After the President signed this game-changing legislation, the federal Office of Child Care then had to develop the details for implementing it (wonky people refer to these details as the “final rule”). It was a lengthy process. Finally, after two years of working with stakeholders, the Office of Child Care released the final rule on September 23rd. If you want to read it, it’s here (full disclosure, it is over 600 pages long… I’m still working on it).
Here’s why we’re so excited at KAC:
This federal policy could bring over $50 million to Kansas for child care. Child care assistance helps all Kansas children afford the care they need to nurture their growing brains while their parents work. Under the new federal law, once children become eligible for assistance, they must be able to receive it for a full year – even if a parent starts earning more money or temporarily loses a job. This will make it much easier for low-income Kansas families who need child care to focus on what really matters – making ends meet and helping their children thrive – instead of trying to navigate unnecessary, burdensome, bureaucratic requirements. Kansas has some work to do on this front; the new law sets the stage for a critical review of our current state policies.
Think about it. Kids need as much stability and routine as possible from the moment they’re born. We’d never even consider pulling a child out of a kindergarten class just because his or her parents changed jobs. Why would we make a three-year-old change child care when his or her parent discovers that their boss dropped the number of hours they can work, or when their family hits a “lifetime limit” of assistance that had enabled them to go back to school themselves? The new law will help us build a system where young children can form relationships and routines and thrive in stable child care environments.
The implementation process for this new legislation is not quite over. Now that the final rule has been released, state officials must seek public input about the implications of new regulatory changes.
That’s where you come in. Envisioning our ideal Kansas child care system is a team effort, and any stakeholder has the opportunity to make their voice heard in the next phase of the advocacy process. You can review the proposed changes to state child care regulations at http://www.kdheks.gov/bcclr/ccdbg.htm and send your comments on what you like and what you’d like to see changed:
Contact: Dorothy Tenney
The state will take all your comments into consideration as they craft final regulations for child care providers. I’ve already marked my calendar for the public hearing. It’s December 20, at 1:00 p.m. in the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka. I hope to see you there!
By Amanda Gress
KAC Director of Research & Analysis
Child care lays the foundation for a strong Kansas workforce. Every day, parents across Kansas begin their workday by dropping their children off at child care. Available and affordable child care means that parents can go to work and provide for their families. After all, it’s impossible for parents to work, search for work, or attend school without arranging care for their children. If child care plans fall through, a parent may miss work or spend a workday worrying about their child’s wellbeing. If parents can’t afford child care, they may drop out of the labor force altogether. Ensuring that child care is available and affordable is a smart strategy for boosting employment and improving productivity.
Helping families afford the cost of child care keeps Kansas families working. Families who receive assistance paying for child care are more likely to be employed and more likely to work full time. This can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.
The Kansas child care assistance program could do more to help working families. Child care assistance is most effective if the program gradually phases out as families’ income increases. This gradual phase-out of eligibility ensures that parents who begin earning more money do not become worse off financially. Kansas could also simplify reporting requirements for families with frequently changing schedules, who already face extra challenges finding child care so that they can continue working. These reforms would help child care assistance meet the needs of working Kansas families.
The reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant presents Kansas policymakers with a unique opportunity to make sure all Kansas families can keep working. High-quality child care prepares Kansas kids for success and means that their parents can go to work. Seizing this opportunity to improve our state’s child care is essential to supporting Kansas’ working parents.
By Amanda Gress
KAC Director of Research & Analysis
After decades of research concluding that early education makes a tremendous difference in a child’s life, individuals across the political spectrum finally acknowledge the importance of early education.
Child care, on the other hand, is often viewed separately. People tend to mistake it for babysitting – a safe space for children while parents work. The truth is high quality child care IS early education.
Let me share my thinking:
Child care prepares young children to succeed in school and in life. It doesn’t just ensure parents can go to work – it is one of the first early learning environments in an infant’s or a toddler’s life. Stimulating, engaging, high-quality child care makes children more likely to succeed once they enter school. They’re also more likely to find good jobs and provide for their own families when they’re adults.
Kansas kids receive child care in four types of settings:
- Child care centers, where classes of children receive care in a child care facility;
- Preschools, where children who are older than 30 months but not yet old enough to enter kindergarten participate in learning experiences for part of the day.
- Home-based child care, where providers care for children in their own home;
- In-home care, where children receive care in their own homes, usually from a family member or a friend.
Regardless of which environment a parent chooses for his or her child, these early learning environments are critical. Ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs during the first five years of life – before entering school. If a child must wait until Kindergarten to receive instructive stimulation, he or she is almost guaranteed to start behind the curve.
This year, the reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant will present Kansas policymakers with a unique opportunity to re-examine the Kansas child care system. During that process, they’ll be able to improve all child care environments for all Kansas’ early learners. Whether they’re cared for in a pre-K program or in a home-based setting, these early experiences make a huge difference. The relationships forged with other children and with their caregivers, the stimulation they receive and words they hear all prepare their young brains for learning.
Kansas policymakers have an incentive to help proactively improve and expand child care opportunities. When children receive care, their parents work and rely less on public assistance. And because child care is early education, it gives children the care they need to start school ready to learn. It’s a smart investment for the entire family – and the entire state.
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By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO
For the last year, state policymakers have engaged in a vigorous debate about how to best help low-income Kansans escape the cycle of poverty. Diverse philosophical approaches have been explored. At Kansas Action for Children, we believe public supports – like cash assistance – give families the critical lift they need when they need it most, increasing their children’s chance of escaping poverty in the future. Some may disagree, suggesting public supports promote government dependency, steal dignity, and discourage low-income people from working.
It is impossible, however, to demonstrate your commitment to the importance of getting Kansas families back to work without also acknowledging how child care access impacts their ability to find and keep a job. If Kansas children do not have child care, their parents cannot work. Without access to child care assistance, parents in poverty must choose between their work and the wellbeing of their children.
Unfortunately, the number of Kansas children receiving child care assistance has declined significantly in the last 10 years. In fiscal year 2015, the state’s child care assistance program served an average of just 12,779 children each month – compared to over 19,000 in 2006.
Today, only eight percent of Kansas’ 211,000 eligible children receive child care assistance from the state.
The impact of this is undeniable. As access to work supports dropped, it’s not surprising that childhood poverty increased.
A variety of factors impact the childhood poverty rate, but research consistently proves child care subsidies affect the economic security of families. Families who receive assistance paying for the costs of child care are also more likely to hold stable employment. A child care subsidy can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.
The 2016 legislative session will offer a unique opportunity to strengthen child care assistance in Kansas as part of the implementation of the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant. Policymakers say they want to help Kansans who rely on public assistance transition to meaningful and rewarding work. Given that, we expect overwhelming support for making child care assistance more accessible to Kansas families in 2016. Child care assistance helps Kansas parents get back to work or enables them to go look for work. It is a critical step in helping low-income families get off welfare rolls, onto payrolls, and out of poverty.
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By Hilary Gee
KAC Government Relations Specialist
Kids learn habits while they’re small that persist through adulthood – when kids are big! Child care providers are key leaders in helping Kansas kids build lifelong healthy habits. By making a few key changes related to food, drinks and activity, providers can have a big impact on the health of Kansas kids.
Adults and kids of all sizes can benefit from good nutrition and activity habits, but changes are needed because a growing number of Kansans of all ages are overweight or obese. These serious health problems start early – 20% of children ages 2-5 in the U.S. are already overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer health, social and educational challenges than their healthy-weight peers. Additionally, people who are overweight or obese as children are more likely to be obese as adults. Early environments – like child care and early education programs – play a crucial role in shaping behaviors and habits for life.
The Think Big! Start Small Pledge Program
The Think Big! Start Small provider pledge is a voluntary program led by Child Care Aware® of Kansas and Kansas Action for Children to connect child care providers with information and resources to promote healthy habits for kids related to food, drink, active play and screen time.
By completing a simple online pledge, child care providers are committing to help make Kansas kids healthier through a few simple changes in their programs. Already, hundreds of providers from child care centers and homes across Kansas have taken the pledge! Join us in building healthier communities so that all Kansas kids can grow up healthy – take the pledge here.
Small Changes, Big Impact.
To help maximize the impact of a few changes, we’ve identified four top priorities based on research and collaboration with Kansas experts: Better Beverages, Unplug Under 2, Breastfeeding Benefits and Right Rewards. These are simple changes that are designed to work in all child care programs – from small family day care homes to big child care centers.
While food choices get a lot of attention, it’s important to remember that beverages also play a big role in children’s nutrition and health. Children and adults get a lot of calories from sugary beverages like soda pop, juice drinks, and sports drinks, but water is the best beverage for keeping kids older than age 1 hydrated. Calories from sugary drinks don’t satisfy hunger like calories from food. And while some sweet drinks (like diet soda) don’t have calories, they make you crave sweet foods and ultimately consume more calories. Children should be encouraged to drink water or low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks.
Having too many sugar-sweetened drinks contributes to a variety of health problems for kids – from dental cavities to heart disease and high blood pressure. If you currently drink or serve sweet drinks a lot, start by replacing one or two sweet drinks each day with a better beverage, or skipping all sweet drinks just one day a week (learn more in “Pass on Pop”). Low-fat milk and water are great for kids. To make water more fun, add some fruit, fresh or frozen, for flavor.
Unplug Under 2
Kids and adults spend a lot of time looking at electronic screens, like smart phones, tablets and TVs, but for young children, screen time should be limited or avoided. While parents and other caregivers may allow lots of screen time at home, you have the opportunity to support healthier habits while kids are in your care.
As a general rule, children under age 2 should have no screen time. For these young children, screen time can interfere with healthy brain development – a child’s brain develops best when interacting with people like parents, caregivers and other kids, not screens. The stimulation from electronics can also interfere with restful sleep. Babies and toddlers sleep a lot, so when they are awake, it’s important to maximize the time they spend interacting and exploring the real world.
Older children should have no more than two hours of screen time each day. For children of all ages, time spent looking at screens is generally sedentary and occupies time when they could be engaged in active play. Excessive screen-time can lead to serious issues, including attention problems, trouble in school, sleep disorders, and obesity. When older kids are allowed screen time, make sure it’s a high-quality and interactive experience – ask questions and discuss what is happening on the screen. This helps kids make connections with real world activities.
Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. Child care providers have a valuable opportunity to support and promote breastfeeding. Parents of breastfed children need information and support to continue breastfeeding when children are in a child care program. In addition to supporting parents, it’s also important to support fellow providers who choose to continue breastfeeding while working.
Breastfeeding has benefits for child care providers as well as children and their families. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of life for optimal nutrition. Breastmilk lower infants’ risk for infections, colds, asthma, allergies, SIDS, chronic health problems, as well as diabetes and obesity. In addition to keeping babies healthy, breastfed babies are happier! Breastmilk is easier to digest than formula, and this makes babies less fussy.
Continuing breastfeeding when babies are in child care is a big commitment for mothers – it takes time and patience to both express adequate milk to send to child care and to continue nursing when with their children. Providers play an important role in helping mothers succeed who choose to breastfeed succeed. Work with breastfeeding mothers to establish a feeding schedule that supports their feeding/expressing routine at home.
To help kids learn to enjoy healthy food and physical activity, we need to rethink some customs around rewards and incentives. Food and physical activity should not be used as a punishment or as a reward.
If you reward good behavior with unhealthy food (like ice cream or candy), kids develop a stronger preference for sweets. It also contradicts nutrition values they are learning at home and in child care. Rewarding kids with unhealthy food is like saying “You need healthy food to grow up strong and feel good, but if you’re good, you will be rewarded with unhealthy food.” Confusing, right? Food rewards also give kids calories they may not need, or replace healthier food in their day. By providing food only when kids are hungry – and not as a treat – children learn to respond to their bodies’ hunger cues. Instead, reward good behavior with praise, a fun activity or other classroom privilege (like leading an activity or picking a game for the group). Similarly, using physical activity – like running laps – as a punishment for bad behavior reinforces negative associations with exercise.
Regular activity helps children regulate their actions and behavior, so punishing bad behavior by limiting activity (like making a child sit in time-out while other kids get to run around) can be counter-productive. Activity should not be treated like a privilege. Instead, correct problematic behavior by restricting screen time or taking away a toy.
Now that you know how small changes in your child care program can have a big impact on the lives of young kids, take the pledge at www.kac.org/think-big-start-small. After you pledge, you’ll be connected with information and resources to promote healthy habits for kids related to food, drink, active play and screen time. You can also connect with other Think Big! Start Small pledge providers on Pinterest to share your ideas and learn from others across the state. Changes you make when kids are small can have big benefits!
Learn more about Think Big! Start Small.
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By Mindi Moses
Graduate student at the University of Kansas
There were nearly 1.5 million hard-working Kansans in the civilian labor force at year end 2014. Who cares for these dedicated workers’ children? In many cases, it’s child care providers in homes or centers.
Unfortunately, Kansas ranks among the top 10 states with the least affordable center-based child care for an infant. In fact, as a major obstacle in sustaining employment, the average annual cost of infant child care in the state of Kansas is $10,518. For an average single working mother in Kansas that amount equates to nearly half (about 47 percent) of her annual earnings.
High-quality child care is crucially important for the well-being and development of children. I learned much about the status of the youngest Kansans from a presentation by Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, when she visited my graduate-level social policy course at the University of Kansas. Shannon shared statistics from the most current KIDS COUNT report. I learned that childhood poverty is increasing in Kansas and that to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), many families have to be living in extreme poverty. Her presentation shaped my thinking about a policy analysis paper I was working on at the time where I was taking a closer look at the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The CCDBG is the social program that provides nearly $5 billion in funds to all 50 states to assist low-income working parents in securing high-quality child care services.
Shannon’s presentation and discussion of TANF distribution in the state closely connected with my interest in child care costs and issues. In fact, states have the option of transferring TANF funds toward child assistance to needy families and Kansas transferred 25 to 30 percent of its TANF funds in 2013. Ninety-six percent of Kansas families who receive a portion of these TANF and other child care assistance funds do so because they are working caregivers as opposed to other reasons such as training or child protective service involvement. This is the highest percentage in the nation. However, cash assistance hasn’t increased, and it has decreased greatly in value and dollars for children and needy families are shrinking despite these families’ commitment to work and self-sufficiency.
So what action can we take for these children and their working parents?
- Be proactive in contacting your legislator.
- Discuss with colleagues, neighbors and friends how early investments in child care can later reduce the number of children receiving special education services and can greatly increase school readiness for all children.
- Endorse child care centers that hire and retain high-quality staff and provide excellent care for children.
- Include child care presentations in discussions of community improvement and expansions.
- Include child care when conducting needs assessments of communities.
- Survey businesses to identify what they and their employees feel are the greatest improvements needed to child care policies and subsidy programs.
There is much work that can be done in Kansas in this New Year to improve the care and early education of our youngest citizens.
By Hilary Gee
Director of Health Policy
The 2015 Kansas legislative session begins next week on Jan. 12. Lawmakers from across the state work for roughly 90 days to pass laws and finalize the state’s budget. During the legislative session, from January through May, KAC staff members are at the Statehouse and talking to legislators about the impact of state policies on Kansas kids and families.
At KAC, the data from KIDS COUNT is the foundation for our policy work. This year, after analyzing the health, education and economic security status of Kansas kids and families, we established three policy priorities:
1. Establish Registered Dental Practitioners: A gap in the dental workforce leaves 95 of Kansas’ 105 counties without enough dental providers. The Registered Dental Practitioner model is a cost-effective and business-minded solution to this problem. By utilizing RDPs, we can grow businesses, ensure that all Kansans have access to regular dental care and save money. Mid-level providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners have already helped address the medical workforce shortage, and RDPs will do the same for the dental work force.
2. Restore the Children’s Initiatives Fund: Nearly a decade ago, Kansas lawmakers made a commitment to our state’s future prosperity by establishing the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF). CIF dollars support quality early care and education programs that are making a difference in the lives or our youngest citizens and in the livelihood of our state. However, state investments in early childhood have remained flat in recent years, resulting in an erosion of programs and services. For the well-being of the next generation, the strength of the future Kansas workforce and the most effective use of state dollars, this trend must not continue.
3. Improve Child Care Assistance Policy: Child Care Assistance Policy plays the dual role of improving the quality of care for young children and helping to keep low-income parents working. Child Care Assistance, also known as the Child Care Subsidy, is a federal program administered by the state. The 2014 reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, the major source of funding for Child Care Assistance, requires a number of updates to state administrative policies. The new requirements provide an opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the current Kansas Child Care Assistance structure.
As the state is confronted by growing budget shortfalls, we’ll be speaking up for Kansas kids. To get updates and learn how you can help, sign up for legislative updates. Also, be sure to follow @KansasAction on Twitter—we’ll be tweeting out KIDS COUNT facts each day of the 90-day legislative session.
By Dr. Ximena Garcia
Kansas Action for Children board member
“Many parents use our pool as cheap child care for their kids. They leave them there all day without any food or money to buy snacks.” The words of that lifeguard have resonated with me ever since I heard them. The thought of small children spending their summers hungry all day, day after day, gave me a sick feeling in my own stomach.
I attended a meeting at Harvester’s with KAC President Shannon Cotsoradis this past spring about summer nutrition. The goal was for Kansas to serve 1 million lunches to hungry kids this summer. That sounded great to me until I heard the rest. Kansas serves 358,000 school lunches to children of low-income families daily during the school year. The goal that sounded so lofty to me for the summer is actually a small drop in the bucket. If Kansas reached its goal of serving 1 million meals, it would mean that all the kids who are potentially hungry in Kansas ate lunch just three days this summer. Also shocking to me is the “regulation asphyxiation” associated with the summer meals. No seconds. The entire meal must be consumed on-site, which means kids have to throw away a leftover apple or bag of crackers if they didn’t finish at lunch – instead of taking it home for later. Lunch hours are set in stone ahead of time, so children are turned away if they arrive a minute late. These regulations seem to go on and on.
If we don’t want Kansas children to spend their summer days hungry, much needs to change. What can I do? I hope I can be part of the conversation to end summer hunger for Topeka children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a solution and possibly be seen by those outside of Kansas as innovative? For now though I would like to help a few children have a full stomach even if just for one day this summer.
I shared my thoughts with a group of women friends who decided to help me. We brought two grills, a tent, burgers, hot dogs, celery, carrots and watermelon to the local pool and served whoever came to us. We served about 60 burgers and 15 hot dogs in about an hour and a half. The kids who came were not who I expected. They were almost all teenagers who were at the community center playing basketball and other games. One boy ate three burgers and a hot dog. I think we would’ve had a bigger crowd if we had come earlier in the summer. I feel certain that if we would have come every week, we would have served many, many kids.
I had thought that the kids would be suspicious of us and ask why we were there or who we were but not a single one did. They came, made themselves a plate and ate. Many went in to get friends and brought them back to eat. I am grateful that I have good friends who would help me with my idea just to serve lunch for one day so that some kids could have the feeling of a full stomach. I wish that I knew how to make that happen every day.
By Tosha Jansen-Conkey
In January 2007, I was a divorced, bankrupt single mother of two baby boys and living at the Topeka Rescue Mission. In February 2008, my Earned Income Tax Credit story began.
The Federal and State EITC gave me enough money to pay off my $3,000 van and put money down on a mobile home. This is why we are here today. What did I do to deserve taxpayers’ money? I’m not entirely sure.
I get up every day with two babies, feed them, dress them and take them to daycare. Then I work 40 hours a week. Then I pick my kids up, feed them, bathe them, sing songs, teach life lessons, do laundry, wash dishes, grocery shop, take out the trash, mow the yard, change the oil in my van – and my biggest reward is the love of my two favorite boys.
In the last five years, I’ve made less than $25,000 per year. And somehow, I’m the one who the state needs to take money from.
With all the credits, income and medical insurance for the boys, I still don’t break $35,000 a year. But why do I deserve assistance from other taxpayers each year? Well, it’s not about me.
It’s about keeping my boys out of poverty and making sure their needs are not neglected.
Poverty is no joke.
Without this assistance, I may have never received the opportunity to get up on my own two feet. It’s because of the EITC that I can proudly say I’m a working mother of two with a good job as a legal secretary.
It doesn’t seem logical to me that Kansans would want to take EITC money out of the mouths of babes like mine – that’s just not a Kansas value. Hopefully, Gov. Brownback recognizes this and abandons his pursuit to cut the EITC.
Tosha Jansen-Conkey lives and works in Topeka.