Kansas making gains in child day care quality

A state health official says Kansas has made strides in improving the quality of day care for children, though legislators raised concerns that funding could erode the gains in the future.

Rachel Berroth, director of the Bureau of Family Health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, told members of the legislative Health Policy Oversight Committee during a hearing Wednesday that the changes put in place in 2010 helped the state improve its national rankings from among the lowest in the country at 41st to third as measured by an industry organization.

Berroth said her agency has been largely protected from cuts in state spending, and funding concerns shouldn't minimize the gains that have already been made in improving quality child care.

“Don't misunderstand,” Berroth said. “Standing here today talking about the success, it's all true. It's not Pollyanna.”

Berroth said stagnant resources means agency staffers are working longer days to enforce the expanded licensing and inspection requirements.

Sen. Roger Reitz, a Manhattan Republican who's leaving office in January, said he was uneasy about Kansas' recent shift toward not adequately funding state government programs and what that could mean for child care.

“My concern is, of course, that you don't have enough financial support to do what you need to do,” Reitz said.

Berroth said county offices were also assisting with licensing and inspections, easing the burden on KDHE. She also said all levels of government are pulling together resources to provide services.

“That's something that's typically known but never really spoken of or discussed,” said Berroth. “Obviously we're in a similar situation of other state agencies and programs. We're underfunded, that's true, we deal with vacancies.”

The 2010 law regarding day care is known as Lexie's Law in honor 13-month-old Lexie Engleman who was fatally injured in 2004 at a Johnson County day care. The law requires all Kansas child care facilities to be inspected and licensed. It requires additional health and safety training for staff, including basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as well as additional information for parents and an online database of providers.

While the number of child care facilities dropped from 7,800 to 6,400 under the new law, Berroth said the number of children in their care has risen from 139,000 to 140,000. She said KDHE doesn't expect changes to the law will be necessary in the 2013 legislative session.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said implementation of the law was “probably one of the cleanest cases of addressing an issue and getting it done and getting it done in a timely fashion.”

Leadell Ediger, executive director of Child Care Aware in Salina, agreed that the state had made improvements, but had concerns about future funding for the organization. Child Care Aware receives grant funding through an account established by the state's settlement with national tobacco companies.

She said the grant was cut by two thirds, forcing layoffs of eight of Child Care Aware's 20 employees.

“That's my reality and it's very painful,” Ediger said.