By JAMES BELL
As a shortage of child care continues to affect families across Ellis County and beyond, the Hays Chamber has continued taking a leading role alongside a Child Care Task Force in the effort to address the issue.
This week attendees of their membership lunch will hear updates on those efforts at noon on June 24 at the Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 2350 E. Eighth.
“We've been working on this since about September of last year,” said Sarah Wasinger, Hays Chamber president and CEO. “A lot of things have been in the works since then.”
Along with local updates, Jennifer Burgardt, community outreach and engagement coordinator at Child Care Aware of Kansas, will speak about the status of child care in general across the state and nation.
During the meeting, Wasinger said ideas to foster more child-care options will be discussed, including having local businesses create internal daycare options.
“That pay-to-play model really looks like a business stepping up and saying, ‘This is such a big issue that we would actually invest some of our money to allocate some spots for child care just for our business,’” Wasinger said. “So, if you've gotten to the point where you feel like that's a need for your business, we want to hear from you.”
She said benefits for child care providers provided by local businesses are also being explored that could offset the cost of running a facility, including giving discounts on services that could be utilized to make child care in a home or through a center easier.
While efforts are underway to address the lack of services, she said the situation may get worse, before it gets better.
“We've got almost probably 10 providers, from what we're aware of at this point, who might be closing their doors by the end of the summer,” Wasinger said. “We're already at the bare minimum of providers and when you hear numbers like that, they're staggering.”
The effect of those closures, along with the ongoing shortage, can have a substantial impact on the larger area economy.
“The ripple effect is definitely significant when we look at just one person and how that can change the climate of an organization not being there," Wasinger said. "So, I'm definitely looking at solving this from a holistic point of view.”
A survey conducted by the task force in the last months of 2021 highlighted the scope of the problem, finding more than 700 children were in need of care. Further, about 150 people would reenter the workforce if affordable, dependable daycare options were available.
Those workers could significantly affect a tight labor market in Ellis County. The Labor Market Information Services division of the Kansas Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 1.3 percent unemployment rate in April in Ellis County, the latest data to be released.
“Everyone's still hiring right now, for the most part,” Wasinger said. “If you don't have a help wanted sign up, congratulations to you, you found the secret. But you know, that's definitely more of the abnormal versus normal.”
Those that have solved the problem in their business – or have an idea how to do so – are encouraged to participate in the upcoming session or the ongoing Child Care Task Force meetings.
“Our hope is that we might be able to have someone from that community just kind of give us a high-level view of what their solutions started to look like, maybe some things that they've done and how can we maybe mirror what other communities have done.”
“It's not necessarily about reinventing the wheel, but looking at our own scope of what the issue looks like in Ellis County,” she said. “And if some of those solutions have places where they fit here, we definitely want to implement them.”
Ideas for solving the situation, she said, could come from anywhere.
“If you are thinking of anything that maybe we haven't talked about yet, and you were like, ‘Well, maybe it's obvious to me, but it should be obvious to them,’” she said. “Maybe it's not obvious to us. So please let us know. You don't even have to be a part of the task force to share ideas, and we would love to connect with people who maybe have just thought about different ways that we can solve this.”
To sign up for the membership lunch, visit the Hays Chamber’s website, hayschamber.com. RSVP’s are requested and meals are $12 per person.
“We think that the more people that can come to this lunch, to help bring more focus and highlight this need, this issue as our community, is going to be a really good benefit,” Wasinger said. “We know everyone's busy over the summer, but I definitely encourage everybody to get involved as much as they're able to.”
And for those more directly interested in running a child care facility, she encourages participation in the monthly task force meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled for June 20 at the Hays Welcome Center, 2700 Vine.
“If you kind of dragged your feet, or maybe you just didn't have time,” Wasinger said, “we're starting to get to that point where now is really the time to get involved. We are going to be getting very creative on our next steps.”
“We've identified some issues and some needs. Now we're trying to get into that solution mode,” she said. “If you want to be on the train that is getting us there, and your business is willing to possibly commit some resources to make that happen, please definitely reach out to me at the Chamber, whether it's by phone call, by email or feel free to set up an appointment to sit down and visit one-on-one as to how that could look as a partnership for your business and for the task force.”