Kansas Businesses Recognized for Innovative Child Care Solutions

Experiences and environment during the earliest years of a child’s life are responsible for shaping the brain and setting a foundation for everything ahead. For all Kansans, the path to a brighter future depends upon safe, educational, attentive care for ages birth to 5, yet for those living in poverty, access to affordable, high-quality child care may be the single most important factor in making positive change for their families. Whether provided by family, in a center, or in a child care home, improving the quality of child care options in our communities is a key to bettering our state overall.

On February 2, 2016, over 200 child advocates, child care providers, community and business leaders, and policymakers convened for the second annual Symposium for Early Success. Hosted by the Partnership for Early Success, this event was created to elevate the conversation around issues impacting the state’s youngest children, with a focus this year on the importance of high-quality child care.

Four Kansas employers were recognized for their efforts to provide or enhance child care options, access, or affordability for their employees or within their communities. The 2016 Business Awards for Innovative Child Care Solutions honored:

  • The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, for promoting the development and adoption of Spanish-language training modules for child care providers and promoting in-home child care providers as small businesses in their communities.
  • Topeka Housing Authority, for including on-site child care services for working parents or parents looking for jobs.
  • Salina Regional Health Center, for conducting a community-wide, $6 million capital campaign called Every Child Matters to build, furnish, and equip the Donna L. Vanier’s Children’s Center.
  • Hill’s Pet Nutrition, for implementing a series of family-friendly policies, making it much easier for working parents to care for their children.

These employers are examples of the impact that is possible when the unique needs of a region are assessed and ideas turn into collaborative action. Each has recognized that building prosperous communities requires an effective workforce – which is best comprised of supported and strengthened families.


The Family Conservancy: Talk, Read, Play with a Child Every Day Campaign

Mother helping her little child with homework


Recent studies of early brain development prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that pediatricians advise all parents to read aloud to children — beginning as infants. Even before a child can talk, hearing words from the adults in their lives helps their brains grow. In fact, 80% of a child’s brain is developed by age three and differences in brain development, based on language, can be detected as early as 18 months.Studies show that children born into low-income families hear roughly 30 million fewer words by the age of three than their more affluent peers. This word gap leads to an alarming achievement gap – in school and life – between poor children and those born into more well-to-do families. Fortunately, there is a simple and effective way to eliminate this gap: Talking, Reading, and Playing with a child every day is proven to increase that child’s vocabulary and school success.

“Every parent wants their child to do well in school and in life. And the most important things you can do to ensure school success are to start early by talking, reading and playing with your child every day – beginning at birth,” said Dean Olson, Vice President of Programs at The Family Conservancy, a founding partner of the Talk, Read, Play educational campaign established by a coalition of agencies in 2009. The Talk, Read, Play campaign simplifies studies about brain development in young children into a few simple steps every parent and caregiver can take to help support a child’s early development: Talk,

Read, Play with your child every day. These simple activities help a child learn words, enjoy learning and get along with others … important skills for school success. Children’s success in school leads to positive outcomes within our communities: greater high school graduation rates, more skilled and contributing citizens, and a reduced need for welfare.

You can find ideas to make Talking, Reading and Playing with your child a part of your everyday routines by visiting www.TheFamilyConservancy.org

#TalkReadPlayKC #CloseTheWordGap

The Cultural Awareness, Respect, and Engagement (C.A.R.E.) Toolkit Helps Home Visitors work with Refugee Families


Talking to families about the details of their lives is always an exercise in both empathy and tact. Now imagine that the family whose home you entered moments before not only speaks a different language but hails from a distant part of the world — a place they may have escaped under traumatic circumstances — and follows cultural practices you’ve never heard of, much less encountered first-hand.

That was the challenge facing home visitors working with refugee families in Kansas. Social workers are trained to deal with a variety of circumstances and experiences, but it’s hard for them to employ those skills when even the most basic interaction is fraught with potential misunderstandings. From etiquette to eye contact to working with interpreters, home visitors found themselves in uncharted territory — trying to teach people from other cultures to navigate new lives in Kansas without access to any of the familiar landmarks.

The Cultural Awareness, Respect, and Engagement (C.A.R.E.) Toolkit, introduced in the fall of 2015, was designed as a resource for home visitors in these situations. Created through a partnership between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s MIECHV (Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting) and Project LAUNCH programs, and KU’s Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR), the C.A.R.E. toolkit offers introductory webinars on issues that come into play when communicating across cultures, as well as background information on the specific groups home visitors are likely to encounter in Kansas.

“Home visitors were running into a lot of new experiences,” said Adam Brazil, a CPPR researcher who oversaw the development of the toolkit. “Their jobs are very difficult, and any time you can weave in development or support … that’s going to help them, whether directly or indirectly.”

Topics covered by the C.A.R.E. toolkit range from explaining the concept of ‘culture’ to illuminating the diversity among cultures in areas such as world view (for example, how time is measured and understood, and whether more emphasis is placed on individual or collective needs) and behavioral factors (e.g. hand gestures and facial expressions, which can have radically different meanings from one culture to the next).

According to Brazil, the toolkit is about “equipping home visitors with some strategies to think critically about what they’re seeing and to reflect on themselves.”

Learning to recognize their own cultural paradigms helps home visitors understand that not all values are universal. People from other countries may have entirely different expectations regarding education, health care, politics, money, religion and family. Even among refugees from Burma — one of the primary refugee populations in Kansas — there are multiple ethnic subgroups, each with distinct traditions and beliefs. Working with an interpreter can bridge the language gap, but also presents its own set of challenges for a home visitor unaccustomed to working through an intermediary.

Both the toolkit and related training sessions have begun to address these and similar issues likely to confront those assisting refugee families with the assimilation process. Working in cooperation with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and the Bethel Neighborhood Center in Kansas City, Kansas, the C.A.R.E. initiative offers support and advice for those who spend their days helping others.

To learn more about the C.A.R.E. toolkit, or test your own cultural competence, visit http://kshomevisiting.org/care-toolkit/

SIDS Awareness


October is national SIDS Awareness Month, and the Kansas Infant Death & SIDS Network, Inc. (KIDS) has a number of events planned to mark the occasion (see below). Raising awareness about safe sleep practices is an ongoing challenge, however. KIDS Network Executive Director Christy Schunn notes that while many people have gotten the message that babies should be put to sleep on their backs, other factors that can endanger a sleeping infant are less widely recognized.

“We need to make sure that every infant is sleeping alone, on the back, in a crib,” said Schunn, explaining that ‘alone’ also means no bumpers, stuffed animals, loose blankets or other potential impediments to breathing. Given both their lack of muscular control and sensitive respiratory systems, “it doesn’t take a lot for a baby to stop breathing.”

A clutter-free crib is only part of the ideal sleeping environment. “We focus on safe sleep, but we know that breastfeeding and non-smoking environments reduce the risk of SIDS,” Schunn said. According to Dr. Michael Lu, associate administrator for Maternal and Child Health with the federal Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA), up to a third of SIDS cases nationally involved smoking.

As understanding of the contributing factors linked to SIDS or Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) grows, KIDS and its many local and national partners are working to change the behaviors that put sleeping babies at risk. In addition to collaborating on smoking cessation programs, KIDS Network gives away hundreds of portable cribs at community baby showers, provides safe-sleep kits to hospitals and physicians, and last year trained home visitors in 100 of 105 Kansas counties to deliver safe sleep education. They also offer support to families who have endured such a devastating loss.

“Our mission started with bereaved families, and changing the outcome for other people,” Shunn explained. “It’s that energy, that passion, that grief that I think moves the needle.”

From improving child care legislation to putting cribs in the hands of expectant mothers, KIDS and its partner organizations are promoting not only the message about safe sleep but the means to make it happen — regardless of income or education, age or geography.

“Infant mortality is a depiction of how healthy our community is, but when we’re talking about ‘these babies,’ they’re our babies,” said Schunn.

Upcoming Events

Oct. 3: Community Baby Shower for Safe Sleep, Wichita

Oct. 10: Wade’s Ride fundraiser, supporting safe sleep programs at Newman Regional Health, Emporia

Oct. 17: Community Baby Shower for Safe Sleep, Topeka

Nov. 7: Luke’s Community Baby Shower for Safe Sleep, Geary County

Bullying: How to Recognize and Prevent It

Bullying has garnered national attention in recent years from parents, policymakers, educators, and practitioners alike. Bullying is defined as a repeated act of aggression toward a child who is weaker in some way, such as physical size or social status (Merrell et al., 2008; Olweus, 1991). Thus, the two primary features of bullying behavior that differentiate it from other kinds of aggressive behavior and normal peer conflicts are: 1) its repeated and chronic nature, and 2) an actual or perceived power imbalance between the child engaging in bullying and the child targeted.

Recent tragedies (e.g., the suicides of Tyler Clementi, http://www.tylerclementi.org/tylers-story; Megan Meier, http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org) bring to bear the most severe consequences of repeated exposure to bullying and peer victimization. Although a rare occurrence, these deaths make clear that early prevention and intervention is necessary to offset the likelihood of experiencing challenges later in life. Most commonly, those targeted by peers are at a heightened risk for experiencing a wide range of social, emotional, and academic difficulties, including loneliness, social anxiety, depressive symptoms, and challenges focusing in school (Card et al., 2008).

As the school year begins, we must be mindful that, while most children do not experience peer victimization or engage in bullying behavior, approximately 25% – 30% of children in elementary school do (Nansel et al., 2001). Although rates of bullying decline as children age, cyber bullying (e.g., occurring through electronic media, such as text messaging, Facebook, or online games) is thought to peak in middle school and persist as the most common form in high school.

The most effective strategies to prevent and intervene with bullying involve broad and collaborative responses, bringing families, schools, and community professionals together. As a starting place, on-going communication between children and the adults in their lives is needed to identify children at risk for being involved in bullying. Many times, those targeted do not actively report their experiences to anyone – thus the more we ask children about their experiences at school and with peers, the more we can learn about their risk for being involved in bullying.

Many resources are available online that discuss a wide range of intervention options and supports for students involved in bullying. For up-to-date, comprehensive information and research, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/.

Anne Williford, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Social Welfare
University of Kansas

Lemonade for Life: A Transformative Tool for Change


Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult. The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). Although we can’t rewrite the beginning of our story, we can change the way it ends. Building resiliency skills, engendering hope, and changing mindset are ways that practitioners and communities can break the cycle and transfer of negative early childhood experiences from one generation to the next.

Lemonade for Life is an interactive training that was developed by researchers and practitioners in Iowa and Kansas who felt an urgency to use what we know about ACEs to help families understand patterns in their lives. Universally, parents want a better life for their children. Lemonade for Life builds on this commonality and helps families understand that they are strong and already possess some resiliency skills. The six-hour training provides professionals with techniques to start conversations with families about their past experiences with the goal of helping them understand that they have the power to change the path for their children. Professionals receive tools to use with parents to develop a Resiliency Plan and to better understand early brain development and how they can influence their child’s early experiences.

Contrary to what some believe, these conversations are not invasive or traumatic. Parents often feel validated and understood after talking about their early experiences. Practice helps professionals become more comfortable in having what we fear is going to be a difficult conversation.

Hope is a powerful antidote to negative early childhood experiences and has the power to change neurochemistry (Groopman, 2004). We, as professionals, play an essential role in creating a culture of hope and fostering a mindset that lets families know that we believe in them. Everyone needs a champion.

To learn more about getting your own lemonade stand and helping families tap into their own power to change, visit lemonadeforlife.org.

Jackie Counts
Director of the Center for Public Partnerships & Research
University of Kansas

Forming Public-Private Funding Partnerships


In a world of tightly-restricted public funds, it is essential that ambitious, high-impact nonprofits hoping to thrive and grow get serious about raising money from private sources.

How does an organization go about this? These days, one should assume that the entry “price of poker” is a strong program model that reliably delivers satisfying results to those served, plus at least some level of formal evidence of real impact.

Once in the game, what really differentiates the winners is their skill at identifying and developing sound partnerships with a particular type of funder – one having strong strategic alignment with the organization’s work.

While it is tempting to believe that the pathway to sustained private funding lies in making as many calls as possible to a wide diversity of sources, a study by the Bridgespan Group demonstrated the limitations of this approach. Astonishingly, the study found that 90% of the largest nonprofits founded after 1970 were fueled by financial models that relied on a single category of funder – e.g. corporations, fee-paying customers, private individuals or foundations – with whom they shared clear, sustainable, mutual interests.

How can a nonprofit leader identify attractive partnership candidates? A starting point is to ask the following questions:

  • What real social change or benefit results from my work?
  • Who deeply cares about that result?
  • Of those who care, who controls discretionary money?
  • Why should these parties see my organization as the solution to their need?
  • How can we best make our case to them?

Once a leader has candidly answered these questions, there is likely to be work to do before approaching potential partners, perhaps in strengthening the organization’s team or results, perhaps simply in tightening its “pitch.” Whatever the challenge, these leaders should keep firmly in mind this truth – sound partnerships are 2-way streets and the right partners need you as much as you need them.

Paul Carttar
Senior Advisor at the Bridgespan Group
Former Director of the Social Innovation Fund

The Cabinet Welcomes Amy Blosser!

Blosser Pic

We are pleased to welcome our new Early Childhood Director, Amy Blosser, who brings years of professional experience working on behalf of children and families in Kansas. She is a self-starter who values different perspectives to inform strong programs and unite support for children and families.

Amy graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Human Development and Family Life with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She has experience in program management, grant writing, policy development, compliance, and, most recently served as the Director of Head Start and Early Head Start in Topeka.

Amy has three children, a son who is 16 and two daughters, 14 and 11. She loves to be outside or “on the go” including traveling, kayaking, hiking, snow skiing, and golfing, and frequently discovers new interests through her sense of adventure. She enjoys spending time with friends and family and gets the greatest joy from watching her children participate in their activities.  Amy brings this energy and enthusiasm to her role as Early Childhood Director. We are thrilled to have Amy as part of our Cabinet family! Please join us in welcoming her at Amy.Blosser@dcf.ks.gov and (785) 296-4536.

Spotlight: Four County Mental Health Center


Four County Mental Health Center embraces May as Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a time to confront the stigma of mental illness by educating our communities about what mental health means, how it impacts children and adults, and how early intervention can transform the lives of those affected.

Across Kansas thousands of children, youth, and adults experience mental health problems every year. In Southeastern Kansas, Four County Mental Health Center provides a continuum of services, because wellness looks different for each person. Everyone needs something different, and Four County is there to help. Some of the many out-patient services we offer include therapy, medication management, case management services for youth and adults, after-school and summer psychosocial groups, parent education classes, supported employment, and 24-hour crisis services. In particular, the Early Childhood Block Grant, funded through the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, allows the Center to target services to one of the state’s most vulnerable populations: children under the age of five and mothers, both prenatal and postpartum.

The early years of a child’s life are the most critical for healthy development, but traumatic events can negatively impact a child’s brain, affecting executive functioning, emotional regulation, and the ability to cope with stress. Without intervention, the effects can be life-long with repercussions for the family, the child, and the child’s future work and family-life. Support from caring, knowledgeable professionals can make a positive, lasting difference; and the earlier problems are identified and addressed, the better. Timely family case management and consultation services can decrease the need for services later in life, when untreated issues may have had time to compound. Four County Mental Health Center is proud to serve these children and their families.

As we enjoy longer hours of sunshine during Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s also shine a light on the good that comes from rejecting the stigma of mental illness, and identifying and supporting mental health needs as early as possible. By doing so, we will nurture healthier and happier children, families, and communities.


Tammy Blaich, MS, LCP, LCAC, IMH-E®II

Director of Community Based Services

Four County Mental Health Center

Autism Awareness Month: How Do We Reach Every Child with Autism in Kansas?



What comes to mind when you think about the month of April? First thoughts may include spring flowers, rain showers, or the height of allergy season in Kansas. For those of us working with children, we may also think about autism, for April is the month to become more aware of this disorder that affects 1 in 68 children.

Over the years, Autism Awareness Month has become more recognized across the world. In Kansas, the Technical Assistance Network (TASN) – Autism & Tertiary Behavior Supports, works to raise awareness and provide support every day to local communities through our efforts supported by both the Kansas State Department of Education and the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund.

Early intervention is critical to improving outcomes for children with autism, but, without reliable diagnosis tools, it can be difficult to reach all the children who could benefit from these services. Seven years ago, our team met this challenge by setting an ambitious goal: to provide timely and accessible autism spectrum disorder diagnostic services to all children in Kansas through a systematic model. With support from KU Medical Center’s Center for Child Health & Development (CCHD) and KU Medical Center’s Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth, we have since trained over 50 teams from school districts and Tiny-K Infant-Toddler networks to provide evidence-based evaluations in their communities for children who have screened positive for autism spectrum disorder. With the support of CCHD, the teams and families connect via Telemedicine for the final diagnostic impressions and, as a collaborative medical, educational, and family team, create a plan of recommendations for the child.

The impact of our model surprises us every day. We now have teams in 100 out of 105 counties in Kansas. We have helped over 569 children and their families. With our funding partners, we have decreased costs. While we are proud of these statistics, we are more honored to work with dedicated professionals, loving parents, and incredible children. As we continue to improve, our families and children are #1 to us. In a recent Parent Satisfaction Survey, one parent summarized her family’s experience stating, “It was not the diagnosis I was expecting, but the wake-up call I needed.” For us, that is awareness and acceptance!

Sarah A. Hoffmeier, LMSW
Family Services & Training Coordinator
TASN Autism & Tertiary Behavior Supports