PITTSBURG, Kan. — Over $100,000 in grants have been awarded to child care providers in Crawford County as part of the effort to enhance the quality of early childhood care and education across Kansas.

Gov. Laura Kelly recently announced more than $2.1 million in grant funding to support the participants in “All in for Kansas Kids,” a strategic plan that maps out the state’s direction for early childhood development.

“Investing in early childhood care and education system is one of the best ways we can improve outcomes for Kansas families and communities,” Kelly said in a statement. “As we continue to rebuild our state’s foundation, supporting our kids’ development from Day One will boost our communities, help recruit businesses and encourage those in our current and future workforces to stay in the places they grew up.”

Three child care providers in Crawford County were awarded subgrants to help address weaknesses in the early childhood care and education system in their communities.

• The Family Resource Center in Pittsburg received a $77,220 grant to increase child care access.

• Southeast Kansas Education Service Center near Girard was awarded a $31,671.36 grant to connect families to services.

• Crawford County Mental Health Center in Pittsburg was given a $11,250 grant to improve quality of care.

The subgrants were funded by the federal Preschool Development Birth Through Five Renewal Grant, a three-year grant awarded to Kansas in April 2020. Many funded projects will receive multiyear support in alignment with the federal grant to create long-term, sustainable changes.

In 2019, early child care leaders conducted a statewide tour in which they gathered input from parents, early child care and education professionals, civic and business leaders, and community members. The needs and wants were mapped out, which led to the creation of All in for Kansas Kids.

Child care access

The Family Resource Center in Pittsburg offers child care and preschool services, as well as care for school-age children up to age 12. The center is outfitted with nine preschool rooms and 10 child care rooms, which serve children from 2 weeks to 5 years old.

Ann Elliott, executive director of the Family Resource Center, said grant application was made because there’s an infant-toddler child care gap in the community and that an increase in child care availability is needed. Funding will go toward expansion, staffing, recruitment and retention.

“We’ll be doing a needs assessment as part of this grant to see exactly what the child care availability and need is in the community, and then we’re going to increase infant care by six slots,” Elliott said. “I know that doesn’t sound like much, but six slots is a lot. Currently the waiting list at the Family Resource Center for infants is at 61. Everywhere in the community there’s a waiting list for infant care, and our waiting list for toddlers is at 57. It’s the same way at other facilities. There’s just not enough slots.”

With the grant, the Family Resource Center will collaborate with other child care professionals in the region to help them increase child care availability, educate them on recruitment and retention of the workforce and offer bonuses to qualified applicants who can receive up to $2,000 annually for remaining in the field of early childhood education.

“The bonus is tied to years of service and continuing education, whether that be college classes to get a degree" or classes to get a child development associate credential, Elliott said.

Connecting to services

Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, commonly known as Greenbush, provides educational opportunities for school districts and communities in nine counties. One of the services most often requested by community groups and schools is how to engage families in a meaningful way that supports their child’s education, said Monica Murnan, director of community support services at Greenbush.

The center’s subgrant aims to enhance infrastructure, increase collaboration and outreach, as well as to develop awareness campaigns to connect families to community services.

“This particular grant supports the effort to put professional development in one place for teachers, community leaders and other interested groups, such as churches, clubs and organizations,” Murnan said. “It’s really about how do we, as Greenbush, help those service providers connect to families.

“It’s actually a way for us to have that technology built, and then we can just share it and not have to charge for it,” Murnan said. “Family engagement has always been difficult because everyone defines family differently and everyone defines engagement differently. What we’re trying to do is arm those who are out providing services with as many strategies as possible.”

Quality of care

Over half the state is designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Kansas has 230 licensed, board-certified psychiatrists; 70% are in five counties — Johnson, Douglas, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Riley — and 30% are over age 65, according to 2018 data from the Kansas Health Foundation.

“More behavioral and mental health services are needed, including trauma informed services,” the Kansas Early Childhood Needs Assessment stated. “Families facing the disruptions caused by foster care, substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration need additional support.”

Crawford County Mental Health Center offers agency-based and community-based mental health services in the form of individual or family therapy, case management and group services. The center serves children 3 to 18 years old. It also provides different types of services to the community, including homes and schools.

Bill Howell, director of Children's Services at Crawford County Mental Health, said the center is using its subgrant to focus on early intervention in the discovery program, which offers services to children 2.5 through 5 years old and their families. Funds will also go toward staff training, certifications, curriculum for programs and software improvements.

“The grant has helped both better train and equip our clinicians and our staff to provide additional services like therapy and the technology to help provide these programs and projects that’s affiliated with our curriculum,” Howell said.

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News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.