Caring for Kansas’ kids

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.

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