COLBY, Kan. – (Friday, February 12, 2021)
In a childcare desert, LiveWell Northwest Kansas has begun new efforts to improve access to childcare in Thomas County.
“Access to quality childcare remains a critical problem for virtually every county in the region,” explained LiveWell Director Travis Rickford in a Thomas County Coalition meeting on Thursday, February 11. “And, unfortunately, we’re in crisis mode here. Thomas County is one of six counties in the state that has about 40 children waiting for every available spot (in a group- or home-based childcare center.)”
Like many rural communities, families in Thomas County don’t just find it difficult to find an opening, in most cases it’s almost impossible.
“A lack of childcare has been an issue in the community for years; the problem isn’t new,” says Colby mom Christina Beringer. “My son was born in 2013 and we started looking for childcare a month before his due date, but he was two years old before we finally found an opening.”
The continuing problem has garnered the attention of LiveWell, who operates two group childcare facilities. Rickford adds the problem is exacerbated by day care closures with the onset of Covid-19.
“Even without considering the pandemic, we (Kids Port 1 and Kids Port 2) receive about three calls a week asking for care that we can’t provide. As a community, we need to be doing more to increase access to childcare and to support the providers.”
With this in mind, LiveWell has gathered a group of local and regional stakeholders to implement efforts to create a community-based model for childcare in Thomas County with technical support provided by Childcare Aware of Kansas.
The group of eight met for a two-day bootcamp in Garden City provided by Finney County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) to better understand the local dilemma and begin the process of identifying short and long term needs from an economic development standpoint.
Stakeholders learned about the economic impact the lack of childcare has on a community, employer engagement, regulatory environments, and workforce development. The team began working on plans to address these needs in Thomas County.
“We’ve learned that foundations for strong communities focus on early childhood and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Rickford. “Different counties have unique needs, and our efforts will be catered to the needs of Thomas County.”
The program is made possible thanks to funding from the Kansas Department of Education Pre-school Development Grant. As a result of the funding, LiveWell will be able to work with two other counties that are working toward improving childcare in their communities. Technical support will continue from Childcare Aware of Kansas.
As the plan is formed for Thomas County, county residents will have opportunities to review the plan and provide input.
Those interested in learning more or being a part of the planning team should contact Rickford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas County stakeholders and partners throughout the state gathered for a two-day childcare initiative bootcamp in Garden City Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 9 and 10. Efforts to increase access to quality childcare are being spearheaded by LiveWell Northwest Kansas. Attending the meeting (from left) were Betty Johnson, a Strategic Doing consultant with the Dane G. Hansen Foundation; Thomas County Commissioner Brad Flipse; Tanya Koehn, Childcare Aware of Kansas; Director Tamara Clymer, Colby/Thomas County Chamber of Commerce; Brewster resident Jessica McCoy; LiveWell Director Travis Rickford; Krista Carter, Colby Community College; Vernon Hurd Executive Director, Thomas County Economic Development Alliance; Erin Gitau, Citizen’s Health; and via Zoom Kelly Davydov, Childcare Aware of Kansas.