Redefined infant ages and new to child-to-staff ratios: Kansas changes child care regulations

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment talked with hundreds of providers to come up with regulations changes that are intended to open up more child care slots.

By Blaise Mesa

Kansas child care providers likely will soon be able to take in more children, care for more infants and work under new health and safety training requirements. 

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has proposed 37 changes to current regulations to strip away burdensome regulations and clarify language — some aimed at easing rules to fit more children into existing child care centers. 

Kansas has a desperate lack of child care spots, especially for infants. Some pregnant mothers start looking well before giving birth and find that child care centers won’t have room. 

Child Care Aware of Kansas estimates the state is almost 80,000 spots short of meeting demand. Existing care openings meet 46% of the current need. 

The proposed regulations — all backed by key state officials — clarify rules about how to place infants in cribs, help the state become compliant with federal guidelines and require more reporting. For instance, operators now have to report if a child care provider’s pet bites a child.

But the changes are headlined by new child-to-staff ratios and redefining the age of an infant. Both will allow child care operators to take in more children without hiring more workers.

Child-to-staff ratios often depend on the number of people working and the age of each child. But providers will soon generally be able to take in one more child between 1 and 5 years old. 

A screenshot of the changes to child care capacity. These are the maximum group size for one provider.

The state has also redefined the age of infants. The new regulations would drop that age to 1 year from the current 18 months. That will mean, for instance, that a 16-month-old would no longer be considered an infant and in some cases would allow an operator to take in another toddlers.

Annell Harmon, a Wichita-based child care provider, said that’s going to help providers take in more children. The new regulations are “a great deal of change” for the industry, she said. 

Harmon said some regulations are just common sense that remove red tape. 

For example, children had to complete a physical exam before providers could take them in. Some children would have the exam scheduled but not finished, so providers had to turn kids away even if the medical exam was only days away. 

But the new regulations allow children to get that exam done while still getting care. 

“I’m just excited to see what Kansas is doing,” Harmon said. 

Kansas Action for Children, a child advocacy group, said the regulations do a variety of things. Of the 37 proposals, 18 of them created new regulations or expectations. Twenty proposals removed burdensome requirements and another 20 made the facilities safer for children. 

State Sen. Kristen O’Shea, a Topeka Republican, is mostly happy with the changes. 

Fewer restrictions on staff job responsibilities and changes to yearly training requirements will help providers. But O’Shea has pushed multiple bills in the state Legislature to loosen up child-to-staff ratios for infant slots. 

Kansas allows only three infants for every staff member. O’Shea and Republicans wanted Kansas to have a four-to-one ratio like nearby states.

Republicans pushed bills cutting restrictions, saying that burdensome regulations were hurting businesses. They reasoned that if the restrictions were cut back, providers could take in more kids and grow, which would ease the child care shortage. 

It isn’t clear whether the changes go far enough to appease Republicans. Their attempts to make changes were vetoed by the Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.  

When the past bills were being considered, advocates urged lawmakers not to rush through cuts to regulations. 

John Wilson, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, opposed the Legislature’s attempt to adjust child-to-staff ratios. But Wilson supports the adjustments made by KDHE. 

Wilson said this process had plenty of provider input and showed that the child care industry is willing to work with the state to remove restrictions while still keeping health and safety standards. 

That didn’t happen before. 

KDHE helped craft the regulations at public comment periods. More than 400 licensed providers weighed in. Those regulations were then approved by the Department of Administration and the attorney general. 

The regulations aren’t changing through the legislative process. Rather, they reflect new regulations adopted by a state agency and have cleared a public comment period. Lawmakers could pass a new wave of regulations if they choose.

“It would be important for lawmakers to see child care in action and see child care providers in action and realize that our system has been able to work because of these providers,” Wilson said. “What they need is investment.” 

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon