News and Events

HCF Leads Bus Tour in Midst of Week of the Young Child, Possible CIF Sweep

By Ashley Booker - The Hutchinson News abooker@hutchnews.com 

Apr 20, 2016

 

In the middle of Week of the Young Child, Hutchinson Community Foundation led a bus tour focusing on early childhood initiatives, hearing personal stories and asking questions about services and policies that impact young children.

 

“We’re trying to make early childhood a shared community value,” said Aubrey Abbott Patterson, HCF president and CEO.

 

“When early childhood is placed on the front burner, as a shared community value, we’ll no longer think of them as ‘your kids’ but rather ‘our kids’ and together we’ll be able to make policy and systems-level changes that improve outcomes for our kids, families, workforce and community as a whole,” she said.

 

The five-hour bus journey Wednesday led community members and local and state office candidates to the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, Shirlie J. Hutcherson Center, Lincoln Elementary and the Emanuel Lutheran Church. Along the way, those in attendance learned about early childhood development, the difference early intervention can make, the shortage of child-care slots in the area and what it’s like to raise young children here. They also talked about what short-term and long-term solutions the community can take to make the county the best place to raise children.

 

The difficulty of finding child care

 

When Chelsea Barker was pregnant, she interviewed 24 licensed child-care professionals, and although she wasn’t satisfied, she was able to find one she believed who would do a good job. Moments after giving birth to her baby girl, who’s now 8 months old, the provider told Barker they couldn’t take her, which sent her in a tailspin.

 

“I was hysterical,” Barker said, noting the hormones didn’t help.

 

Her daughter is now watched partly by someone who is not licensed and her daughter’s stepmom when Barker is working at First National Bank.

 

Anna Brown, Arlington resident and mother of three, had difficulty finding a provider 1,500 miles away before moving to town. The lack of a child-care website made this additionally difficult. She discovered that the only licensed child-care provider in Turon was full, and her saving grace has been enrolling her youngest in a pre-K program.

 

Buhler parents Ashley Angel and Josh Seeley have two children, and with Seeley being their only source of income, they’ve utilized resources like the Salvation Army and the Food Bank. Angel became a stay-at-home mom mainly due to the difficulties of finding child care. Both of their children attend Head Start and are doing well there, Angel said, but the program should really be credited for helped her son with his speech difficulties and lack of social behavior.

 

“I love the Head Start program,” she said.

 

JourdAnne Diehl works as a paraprofessional educator at Emanuel Lutheran Church while her 1-year-old child attends Hutchinson High School’s daycare.

 

The daycare, Patterson noted, is a high-quality facility and there’s some question about whether it’ll stay open or not.

 

“We’ve got to make sure that places like that continue to operate,” she said. Earlier in the tour, Chamber of Commerce President Jason Ball talked about the shortage of child-care slots in the community.

 

Maternity leave

 

When the Reno County parents weren’t talking about childhood programs, they talked about either paid or unpaid maternity leave. Diehl went back to work two weeks after having her baby, as she said she and her boyfriend couldn’t afford her unpaid leave.

 

Paid or unpaid maternity leave varies throughout the community as it’s a business-by-business decision. At HCF, Patterson said they offer up to 12 weeks where mothers use their accumulated PTO time and then it’s unpaid after that.

 

Barker noted that the bank offered her six weeks of paid maternity leave.

 

Lisa Gleason, director of community impact and engagement at the United Way of Reno County, said although FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks unpaid, she wanted to know what society could do to get six weeks of paid maternity leave for all mothers.

 

“I think in general, we talk a big game, but we don’t follow through on what we say. We often are the least concerned about the most vulnerable in our society, whether it’s the young children or the elderly,” said Patsy Terrell, candidate for the 102nd House District. “We talk about being very, very, very concerned, but when it comes to putting money behind that and energy behind that, we don’t act on what we had to say,” she added.

 

Russ Reinert, owner of Reinert Financial Consulting, said from a business perspective, it’s not that businesses, especially small businesses, are bad employers for not offering paid sick or maternity leave, rather it’s that they may not be able to afford it with a set amount of payroll dollars.

 

“What does that say about our society that our businesses don’t see value in paying for an employee to be gone for six weeks so that they can be at home with their child when that child really needs to have that mom in attendance and right next to them,” Gleason said.

 

The big picture

 

While Patterson said all topics were important Wednesday, she made sure to ask how the community can effect both short- and long-term solutions so the county could be “one of the best places to raise children.”

 

At the end of the day, the group came to the agreement that community education and collaboration is key in changing societal dynamics that affect families. They also noted it was important to ensure good collaboration by engaging both public and private support.

 

“We talked about how the Children’s Initiatives Fund is at jeopardy because of our state’s financial crisis. But also because there’s not enough understanding of the importance and significance of early childhood development,” she said after the tour.

 

While Gov. Sam Brownback is looking at ways to fill a nearly $300 million budget hole, his administration has decided that one way to help fill it and get fast cash is through selling future proceeds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. It surfaced as one of three key options after revenue estimates for the next year came in lower than expected.

 

HCF administers over $1 million annually in early childhood grants through the Children’s Initiatives Fund. CIF is derived from tobacco settlement dollars. These dollars flow through the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund, to the CIF and then to children’s programs, according to information from Kansas Action for Children.

 

If together we decide that early childhood is a shared value, Patterson said, then we’ll invest accordingly.


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