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K-State Today

July 10, 2024

Community visit spotlight: Jackson County taskforce collaborates with K-State to learn more about child care needs in county

Submitted by Office of Engagement

Community members arrive at Holton Community Hospital to take part in a facilitated conversation with Jackson County's child care task force, K-State Research and Extension and local partners.

Across the state of Kansas, many communities are grappling with a child care crisis. Some families must choose to leave the workforce because of unaffordable rates or lack of child care availability.

In 2023, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated "that Kansas faces a long-term economic loss of $2.2 to 3.3 billion due to the lack of child care options in our state."

Addressing the child care crisis was an important topic during the February regional community visit to Jackson County. Community members gathered in Holton to take part in a facilitated conversation with Kansas State University President Richard Linton and other faculty, staff and students about the community's responsive efforts to address local child care needs.

Jackson County's child care task force members, K-State Research and Extension and local partners discussed the importance of the community working together, inclusivity and accessibility to resources.

Teresa Hatfield, K-State Research and Extension agent, said working on child care issues is important for family and community wellness agents because it impacts a community's overall health and well-being.

"When parents have good-quality child care options, they can provide for their families in a way that works best for them," Hatfield said. "Knowing that you don't have to worry about your child while they are in day care alleviates stress."

The event also highlighted results of a recent local child care needs assessment that was conducted in partnership with the Jackson County child care task force and the Applied Research in Child Health and Enhancing Resilience, or ARCHER, laboratory in the College of Health and Human Sciences and through K-State Research and Extension. The ARCHER lab's research and programming efforts are supervised and conducted by Bradford Wiles, assistant professor and extension specialist in early childhood development.

Task force members said the research conducted in Jackson County was important because it helped identify gaps such as input from the local Guatemalan immigrant population and areas of opportunity regarding community development infrastructure.

Tonya Barta, president and CEO of The Farmers State Bank in Holton and current K-State Alumni Association board member, said collaboration with community members including industry partners were key to the task force.

"The child care crisis brings to light an important issue that is affecting not only families with children, but business owners, schools, hospitals, etc. in our communities," Barta said. "The community may not know that small businesses along with larger businesses and school districts all have had difficulty hiring staff due to child care issues. Economic development for our community lies directly in line with reliable, affordable and available child care."

Hatfield said that the regional community visit child care discussion piqued the interest of other community members who had not been previously involved. For example, one city council person expressed concern over how the city of Holton zones for business and how this could be prohibitive for starting new child care businesses. The concern was brought to the city council's attention a couple of weeks after the visit.

Nonetheless, the child care task force continues to work diligently to advance this area of work in Jackson County.

Barta said that along with educating local officials on the challenges that day cares and/or providers encounter when attempting to open new facilities, they, too, are educating the community on the importance of working together to address to community's child care needs.

"Bringing the right people to the table on this issue is key," Barta said. "That's what gets an issue resolved in a small town."

Explore K-State's regional community visits and engagement partnerships through our StoryMap or find complete information about regional community visits. K-State faculty, staff or students who are interested or currently immersed in university-community engagement work can contact the Office of Engagement for opportunities to begin or grow scholarly work.