New Wichita program builds partnerships between employers, child-care providers
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New Wichita program builds partnerships between employers, child-care providers

By Shelby Kellerman – Managing Editor, Wichita Business Journal
Aug 1, 2023

At the Envision Child Care Development Center — one of the few daycare centers in downtown Wichita — the waitlist for a newborn baby is at least nine months.

It's more of the same at child-care providers across the city.

"These parents are on three to four waiting lists to get their baby in a center for infant care," said Teresa Houston, who is director of the Envision center.

According to the latest data from Child Care Aware of Kansas, existing child-care availability in Sedgwick County is meeting 41% of potential demand. In other words, there could be as many as 16,541 children in Sedgwick County waiting for a slot to open up.

That has major implications for working parents.

"It's hard right now for the parents, it's hard for child care in general because of our staffing shortages," Houston said.

Teresa Houston, Envision Inc.

She recently participated in a new program organized by Child Start Inc. and the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas that aims to build partnerships between child-care providers and employers.

It can be eye-opening for some CEOs, she said.

For instance, it costs an average $1,185 each month for full-time child care for infants and toddlers in Sedgwick County, Child Care Aware of Kansas data shows.

And if the Envision Child Care Development Center closes each day at 5:30 p.m., employees have to leave work on time to pick up their children before getting charged a fee.

"I think it kind of puts the need in front of the employer better so that they can understand the strain, the anxiety that those parents are going through — yet they are also trying to be a good employee," Houston said of the new program. "... This group is trying to have some serious outcomes. Not just talk about it, not just meet about it."

A group convened last year set out to bring workplaces to the table to help solve the child-care availability issue.

What they found is that workplaces recognized that child care is a workforce issue, and that they're willing to help solve it.

"People want to do this, they want to partner up, they want to work together, but it becomes very uncomfortable when you just throw them in a room together," said Tanya Bulluck, who is executive director of Child Start, a local nonprofit that provides early childhood development services. "So I decided what if we do a sort of swipe right, swipe left situation?"

The program matches a child-care provider — which could be either home-based or a facility — with interested employers during virtual meetings held twice a month. Any employer is invited to join the meeting — as many as 10 have joined at one time, Bulluck said — to learn more about the provider, ask questions, and explore potential partnerships.

"From there, we want them to take that relationship and run with it," Bulluck said. "We can't do this for them, but we can bring them together and hopefully create some magic."

That could involve a child care provider reserving a certain number of slots for a company's employees, for example, or an employer paying for child care for their employees.

Bulluck said there's even potential to take that a step further.

"We have some family child-care providers who have been ready to operate an actual child-care center, but they just don't have the funds or the right partnership to do it, and there are employers who want to open a facility, they just need an expert to do it," she said. "So there are different ways they're looking at partnering."

Tanya Bulluck, Child Start Inc.

In fact, the state last year expanded its child daycare assistant tax credit program that incentivizes businesses to help cover a portion of the costs of their employees' child care, or provide onsite child care themselves.

Houston said she'd like to see employers take advantage and include child care as part of their benefits, but so far nothing has materialized.

"We are more than open to reserve those spots for the employer, but we just haven't got that far onto the table," she said. "... It's just figuring out the language, figuring out how that agreement between both of those parties could just come into a beautiful alignment, and just set the course."

The Creative Child Care Connections program started in May, so Bulluck said it's still early.

"The goal is to eventually just create a website or an app and just let it happen that way," she said.

For now, Bulluck said employers who'd like to participate should contact the Workforce Alliance about joining the program.

"The goal is to actually get the employer and the provider to work together and figure out the best way that they can support the workforce crisis with the childcare crisis," she said. "And what works for you, may not work for another, so the goal is to get them to come together and say, 'I'm willing to do this, what are you willing to do?'"