Early Childhood
Community Center

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In April of 2021, the USD 497 Board of Education made the difficult decision to close Kennedy Elementary to future K-5 students which started a conversation about repurposing the building  as an early childhood community center. Since June of 2021, a workgroup of Douglas County early childhood community stakeholders has been gathering input, researching evidence-based models and developing timelines for the creation of a new approach to better serve children from 0-5 years of age, their families and their caregivers. This conversation evolved into a broad county initiative beyond any one building.

 

This collaborative community effort could not come at a more promising time as there is unprecedented support at all levels of government and in public/private sectors for a reimagining of the systems that impact families with young children. The complex social, economic and health issues faced by families with young children today cannot be addressed by any one organization or program. It requires a broad, well-informed community response and investment.

 

 

The Inspiration

A trauma-informed, family-centered, multigenerational
Early Childhood Care and Education Mixed-Delivery System
where community services and supports wrap around the entire family to meet their needs.

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The Model

  • A Family Resource Center that wraps around the entire family to make sure basic needs are met 

  • An Early Childhood Professional Support Network to recruit, support and retain early childhood professionals 

  • Child Care and Education to increase the number of accessible, affordable and available high-quality child care and education slots in Douglas County
     

  • A Family Friendly Workplace initiative to promote and support Family Friendly Workplace policies and practices in all employment sectors

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are we doing this? 

Early childhood care and education is essential to help children and families thrive — and the early childhood infrastructure impacts all other systems of support. This has become even more evident during the COVID pandemic. We plan to build on the existing child care and education environment in Douglas County to better meet the needs of our community by bringing early childhood supports and services together in one place. We will also work to increase coordination so families have an easier and more rewarding experience creating a comprehensive care and education

plan to meet their child’s unique needs.

Why an early childhood community center?

A recent statewide needs assessment supported what we already knew. Families with young children are struggling to:

  • meet their basic needs

  • find high-quality child care they can afford when they need it

  • successfully navigate to connect with services that could help

The ECCC seeks to address these challenges by strengthening and coordinating services to bolster the early childhood ecosystem in Douglas County and better meet the needs of our community.

Why early childhood birth to five? 

Early childhood is important. The first five years are the most critical period for brain development. Quality early care and education has been shown to have a profound impact on the lifelong well-being, education, and income of children. Research shows that high-quality care and education offered from birth to five years old can set children, particularly those in low-income families, on a path to higher school achievement, college completion, increased earnings, greater employment, and better health, with a high return on investment over time. If we can reach families when their children are young, they will have established the support network they need as their children grow. An investment in early childhood is an investment in the future!

Is there really a need for more early childhood care and education services in Douglas County?

Yes. While there are child care and education programs ably serving children in Douglas County, there are not enough to meet demand. Currently, licensed facilities meet just 47 percent of the potential need. For every infant or toddler spot in a licensed facility, there are ten children to fill that spot. Douglas County has lost 9 licensed child care facilities since 2020, 6 of those within the last year. With fewer licensed slots, families are struggling to meet childcare needs. Difficulties range from unintentional competition among families for slots, a child care plan that is pieced together and lacks consistency, or families using unlicensed child care which can be unsafe. We are trying to scale up to meet demands and to do so affordably requires a community investment in our workforce and families with young children.

Why the focus on infants and toddlers for child care to be provided at the early childhood community center?

Research shows that investing in infants and toddlers has the greatest impact on children’s development and return on investment over time due to the number of neural connections made in the first two years of life. Early care and education programs have long struggled to provide affordable high-quality infant-toddler child care, because the low child-teacher ratios required to support safety and responsive care for this age group come with significantly higher staffing costs. As a community, we need to minimize the financial consequences of serving infants and toddlers so more providers are willing and able to care for children from birth to age two.

Who will have access to these services and programs?

We are working to ensure equitable access to high-quality early childhood care and education for every Douglas County child from birth to age five. Quality child care and education has a positive impact on families with young children and is especially beneficial for children from over-burdened and under-resourced families. In national studies, the achievement gap between different income levels and ethnicities can be seen prior to kindergarten, which indicates quality child care and education may go a long way in reducing disparities which can have long-term or permanent effects on future economic stability for families. We want to make sure that every family with young children has access to high-quality services that they can afford with specific strategies in place to support the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Why is child care and education important to the Douglas County economy?

Quality child care and education is a public good, fueling our county’s economic engine by helping parents work while building the workforce of the future. It supports parents seeking additional education and training, which contributes to higher earnings over an individual’s lifetime. Without affordable child care and education, parents are forced to reduce their work hours or opt out of the workforce. Child care and education capacity should be an essential part of the community discussion about economic development and job growth.

As an employer, why is a strong early childhood infrastructure good for business?

A strong early childhood infrastructure is good for business! It helps meet the needs of both employers and employees. Douglas County businesses will be more successful in recruiting businesses and employees with children to locate here because our early childhood infrastructure will be able to meet the needs of their families.

Will the early childhood community center put other child care facilities out of business?

The ECCC is not in competition with other child care and education programs but is in support of them! We want to increase coordination across the entire Douglas County early childhood community so it works better for everyone including our center- and home-based providers.

Who will be paying for this?

In fall of 2021, the early childhood community center project received its first significant financial commitment from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet in the form of a Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Grant three-year pilot project award to Community Children’s Center in the amount of $582,000. LMH Health and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce each provided $10,000 of the required $20,000 in matching funds for that grant opportunity. In July of 2022, Douglas County awarded $3,676,405 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to Community Children’s Center to acquire a building to serve as the primary ECCC location and to begin renovations of that space. We will actively be seeking funds to complete renovations through grants, foundations and private donors. While there is currently unprecedented support for reimagining the early childhood infrastructure at all levels of government, we need the support of the business community and private donors to make this work. We believe early childhood systems should be a shared investment with shared benefits across Douglas County.

What can I do to help?

Your support makes all the difference. Here are 7 steps you can take:

  1. Educate others on this exciting project in Douglas County

  2. Share input through both formal and informal opportunities

  3. Advocate for early childhood at all levels of government

  4. Implement family friendly workplace practices at your place of business

  5. Volunteer your time and talents

  6. Donate to the ECCC fund at the Douglas County Community Foundation or visit Community Children’s Center for more options  (https://www.communitychildrenks.org/donate)

  7. Contact Kim Polson at kimpolson@communitychildrenks.org if you would like to get involved