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Free child care offering solution for parents in Kansas City area

Large waitlist creates staffing need
Posted at 5:25 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 23:19:25-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — It’s no secret child care is hard to find and afford.

KSHB 41 News set out to expose issues within the system and offer solutions for many parents who are struggling.

There’s a place in the Kansas City area that provides free childcare and it doesn’t stop with education.

It’s a well-kept secret in the area, until families really need them.

“The families we are serving are the neediest of the needy in our community,” Terrie VanZandt-Travis said.

She's the executive director of Growing Futures Early Childhood Education Center, a head-start program for children and families in Overland Park.

“They are committed to the mission that’s why they come to work every day,” VanZandt-Travis said about her teaching staff. “We serve our community's most vulnerable, pregnant woman, children [ages] birth to 5 and the whole family.”

It’s an early education center that will fully pay for a child’s day, providing free day care.

“We have a 6-hour day and a 10-hour day,” she said.

From nutrition to on-site dental care, parent education, financial literary, and job help, Growing Futures offers complete wrap-around care for children and their families.

VanZandt-Travis said Growing Futures is a not-for-profit funded by donations, state and federal grants.

They currently serve more than 220 families, with eligibility based on income.

VanZandt-Travis said the cutoff line for families is at 100% of poverty.

“For perspective, a family of three would earn $21,000 a year [for the last year] —a livable wage is closer to $60,000," she said.

Even with these numbers, VanZandt-Travis said there are still more than 100 families on the waitlist — and the center is not without its struggles.

“COVID’s been hard,” she said. “But this year’s been even harder. We have a virtual classroom we're in right now, not because of a COVID exposure but due to staffing.”

She said they are down 10 teachers out of 30 they need to be staffed.

“Those that have left, the primary reasons are pay and they want to work remotely. Until we can get the funding to increase pay we will be in the cycle,” VanZandt-Travis said.

Growing Futures has come up with a plan to stay competitive.

“The reality is, is there are not degreed people in our community to hire so we are bringing on folks that maybe don’t have their early childhood degree and helping pay for their coaching, professional development,” she said.

Her bottom line is to continue to care for the neediest in the community.

The center is run through donations, too, and VanZandt-Travis said Growing Futures has to raise $415,000 per year to remain qualified for grants.

“My message would be this: You are giving directly to a child when you fund the salary of a teacher because they give directly to a child day in and day out,” she said.