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Census Could Help Kansas Communities Most Needing Child Care, But They're The Hardest To Count

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Kansas Children's Service League
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Children practice yoga at the Kansas Children's Service League's Head Start program in Garden City.

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The census determines more than the number of congressional districts in a state. The number of responses impacts child care, too. 

Eighteen of Kansas’ 105 counties don’t have infant or toddler child care available, according to Child Care Aware Kansas. It uses census data to calculate the state’s child care needs, and every year, the demand grows. 

“Each year it just continues to really become a little bleaker — especially in rural areas,” said Leadell Ediger, executive director of Child Care Aware Kansas. 

Kansas is at risk of being undercounted in this year’s 2020 census — eight counties in southwest Kansas are classified as a Hard-To-Count populations by the U.S. Census Bureau. That means a quarter or more households in those eight counties didn’t return the 2010 census. 

Census data determines the amount of federal funding that local communities receive for things like schools and roads. The 2019 Child Care Supply and Demand report by Child Care Aware Kansas used census data to calculate the number of spots needed across the state in day cares, private care and most Head Start programs. 

It’s why some child care centers are planning to engage with families, because an inaccurate count could thwart child care expansion efforts or even reduce the number of spots at child care centers. 

Ediger said 35% of counties “do not have a child care center at all. And that is really especially true for the smaller rural areas.” 

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Credit Child Care Aware Kansas
Child Care Aware Kansas tracks the number of child care centers and uses census data that shows poverty rates among children in Kansas.

In western Kansas, the demand for child care in more populous counties like Seward, Ford, Finney and Russell ranges from 50 spots to more than 1,500. Even smaller counties like Morton, Hamilton and Wichita only have enough child care for 15 to 35 kids —  but need an estimated 100 openings.   

In Garden City, the Kansas Children’s Service League’s Head Start program will share census videos and handouts with parents. Head Start Grant Development Manager Cecilia Douglass said census data could impact future grant funding that will “either justify program expansion or not.”

In the 2010 census, Finney County was undercounted by as many as 5,300 people.  

“If we had accurate numbers with the census, it’s very possible that we would have been able to add a few more … Head Start classrooms,” Douglass said.

Census responses do not impact Head Start funding, but they capture the number of children, demographics and poverty levels, which can affect Head Start facilities’ grant funding. 

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Credit Kansas Children's Service League
Children hang out with Seamus, a Wheaten Terrier, at the Kansas Children's Service League's Head Start program.

In December, Bianca Alvarez attended a lunch-and-learn in Dodge City that focused on the census. When attendees were asked if they responded to the 2010 census, only two people out of 20 raised their hands. 

Alvarez, a family and community specialist at Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Center in Dodge City, said her organization serves 450 children in Ford County. 

An undercount, she said, “could mean loss of spots for our program. It could mean loss of funding for our program.”

Corinne Boyer covers western Kansas for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Corinne_boyer or email cboyer (at) hppr (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org