Child care an issue that must be solved

Newton has a pressing need for child care, and it’s good to see the city taking the lead in an attempt to bring about solutions to such a problem. And those who need services can help solve the issue as well.

We first wrote about the problem in October when Sunshine Academy closed. As one of the largest licensed child care facilities in the county, their exit made the difficulty of finding child care in Newton even worse.

Even before the closure, a 2017 Kansas study ranked existing child care services in the county as serving 38 percent of the county’s need. That’s lower than the surrounding counties. McPherson services meet 65 percent of demand for instance.

We spoke to parents and providers about the difficulty of finding places to take their children and the financial costs of child care.

Since then, we’ve continued to hear anecdotally of the problems. In the office, we have a staff member who has to travel to Bentley for child care—that’s a difficulty and a hardship.

On a larger scale the shortage makes it difficult to recruit young families into Newton, to hire some of those families to work at local businesses and to keep more people in the work force.

The issues we face are relatively simple.

To put it bluntly, Newton has a large population that needs child care.

These households have both parents working jobs or are single parent households. And some of these households have parents working a job or more than one job, who do not bring in large amounts of funding.

Organizations like the Harvey County United Way try to bridge the gap. Last year, they provided $32,500 in aid to help parents in need afford child care.

Still, the market dictates what child care providers can charge. The providers can’t charge more than what their customers can afford.

That makes for low bottom lines in the child care industry, especially when locations have customer bases that are mostly working class.

Compounding the problem are state regulations on child care, requiring one trained staff member per three infants or 12 pre-K children.

Regulations are good and necessary to keep children safe. But the need for training and licensing only adds to the cost and time commitment required of child care providers. Such training also makes employees eligible to work other jobs with better pay and benefits than in child care.

The low bottom line and staffing difficulties combine to make for a business that’s difficult to get into or make work. And as a result, while there’s definitely a demand for child care in Newton, supplying that demand has proven difficult.

This is where community cooperation should come in and play a vital role. City Manager Bob Myers held a meeting and plans to continue to facilitate discussions with interested parties to solve the child care problem.

That solution could mean cooperation between the public and private sectors to provide space for child care providers. Such cooperation already exists between the Newton School District and Newton Community Child Care.

That solution could mean existing care providers working to pool resources to cut costs. That solution could mean bringing in or encouraging a group with a child care model such as the Wichita YMCA to help provide child care.

The solution could mean looking for grants and outside funding to help make operating a center more sustainable.

We reach those solutions by bringing interested parties together and talking about what could be done.

But the next step takes action.

Myers said the city is working to put together a survey and distribute it in the community to get a good idea for the amount of people who need child care in Newton or are underserved.

Those who are affected by the child care shortage should keep their eyes out for such a survey and fill it out. And if you know someone who might need child care pass such information on. Compiling the survey will be key for helping bring in a provider or formulating other solutions.