By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Child Care Task Force of Ellis County is trying to develop a child care substitute pool.
Members of the task force further discussed the pool at a meeting on Tuesday.
A survey conducted last year indicated Hays has one open spot for every 10 children who need care, and that is keeping potential employees out of the workforce.
Providers expressed concerns about the inability to find workers to fill in for themselves or other staff members when emergencies or sickness arise.
This can result in providers having to close temporarily, as well as adding to stress and burnout for the providers.
Temporary closures put a burden on parents, who say it is almost impossible to find alternative care on short notice and often have to miss work to take care of the displaced or sick children.
A substitute pool subcommittee has been meeting to explore the formation of such a pool.
On Tuesday, task force members discussed the need to pay an adequate wage to child care substitutes, managing the substitute pool list and issues of credentials.
The task force has not set an hourly wage for the substitutes yet. However, local child care providers have bemoaned low pay for child care workers.
USD 489 has offered to let the task force use its substitute teacher software to create a database for the child care substitute list.
The task force plans to apply for a $20,000 state Rural Champions grant. That would provide a part-time employee at 20 hours a week, who could solely focus on child care. The Hays Chamber has offered to provide the 25 percent in matching contributions if Hays is selected for the grant.
The Rural Champion grants are offered by the Kansas Department of Commerce, and the selection process is in October.
Sarah Wasinger, Hays Chamber director and task force member, said if Hays is selected for the grant, the Champion employee could work on developing the substitute pool database, among other duties.
Under state licensing requirements, anyone who works more than several hours in child care has to meet the same requirements as full-time providers. This includes a physical, tuberculosis test, background check, and health and safety training.
Donna Hudson-Hamilton, Early Childhood Connections director and task force member, said she thought the task force should try to recruit students from Fort Hays State University for the pool.
The students could gain valuable experience working with children and possibly receive paid internship credit, she said.
She also suggested the pool pay for training for new pool members as an incentive for joining the pool.
Although members of the task force have discussed trying to offer child care accreditation classes to high school students, Hudson-Hamilton said Hays USD 489 officials have said they wished to delay implementing that track at the high school until next year.
Task force member and State Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-111th District, said she thought requiring full accreditation for substitutes who may fill in for only an hour or two is too much to ask.
She said she hopes the pool could work with regulators so people who are needed for only short periods could also be used by providers.
Sarah Wasinger said the subcommittee had discussed having some sort of feedback process so providers could evaluate their experiences with pool substitutes. She also said she thought having a job fair during which prospective pool members could meet providers would be a good way to kick off the program.
The task force members also discussed other possible funding sources for work to expand child care in the community.
Community Development Block Grants for the first time this year will be available for child care projects. City and county governments can apply for up to $750,000.
The funds must be used for new construction, renovations of existing buildings, land acquisition, or engineering or architectural fees. The grants can't be used to fund operational expenses.
The task force has received a $30,000 matching grant from the Robert E. and Patricia Schmidt Foundation but needs to acquire the $30,000 match for those funds.
Task force members have discussed applying for a Dane G. Hansen Foundation grant to further the task force's efforts to organize the substitute pool and will be considering an application to the Patterson Family Foundation for a grant in 2023.
The task force will host a series of focus groups in November to update the task force on community needs since the task force's survey that was conducted a year ago.
"We have made some progress by different child care capacities being added," Sarah Wasinger said. "We obviously know we have more work that we need to do and how do we honor what our community says their needs and preferences are."
As part of this process, task force members hope to better determine how grant opportunities might align with community needs, Wasinger said.
Betty Johnson of the Dane G. Hansen Foundation is scheduled to host the focus groups.
Provider focus group — 6:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Hays Welcome Center, 2700 Vine
Parent focus group — 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the welcome center
Employer focus group — 4 p.m. Nov. 1 at the welcome center
Faith-based focus group — 1 p.m. Nov 17 at the welcome center.
Education focus group — 9 a.m. Nov. 17 at the welcome center.