An Early Childhood Community Center For Douglas County

Raising resilient children and families in Douglas County with comprehensive early childhood supports and services

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Bringing early childhood supports and services together in one place

We believe early childhood care and education is essential to help children and families thrive — and that early childhood development impacts all other systems of support. Housed in the Kennedy Building, the Early Childhood Community Center will build on the existing child care and education environment in Douglas County to better meet the needs of our community. We increase coordination so families have an easier, more rewarding experience creating a comprehensive care and education plan to meet their child’s unique needs.

In the news

ECCC receives $600,000 grant

A Douglas County child care organization recently received a nearly $600,000 grant to help support the development of the new early-childhood development center in eastern Lawrence. Community Children’s Center announced in a news release Thursday that it had received the grant from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, which supports efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect. The organization said the funds would help establish the early-childhood development center at the former Kennedy Elementary School of the Lawrence school district.

Read LJW article

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Frequently Asked Questions

How was the Early Childhood Community Center for Douglas County established?

In April of 2021, the USD 497 Board of Education made the difficult decision to close Kennedy Elementary to future K-5 students, but they also said “Yes!” to repurposing the building as an early childhood community center. This opportunity could not come at a more promising time as there is unprecedented support at all levels of government and in public/private sectors for a reimagining of the systems that impact families with young children. The complex social, economic and health issues faced by families with young children today cannot be addressed by any one organization or program. It requires a broad, well-informed community response and investment.

As an employer, why is a strong early childhood infrastructure good for business?

A strong early childhood infrastructure is good for business! It helps meet the needs of both employers and employees. Douglas County businesses will be more successful in recruiting businesses and employees with children to locate here because our early childhood infrastructure will be able to meet the needs of their families.

What can I do to help?

Your support makes all the difference. Here are 7 steps you can take:

  1. Educate others on this exciting project in Douglas County.
  2. Share input through both formal and informal opportunities.
  3. Advocate for early childhood at all levels of government.
  4. Implement family friendly workplace practices at your place of business.
  5. Volunteer your time and talents.
  6. Donate to the ECCC fund at the Douglas County Community Foundation.
  7. Contact Kim Polson at if you would like to get involved.

How will President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan impact the early childhood community center?

President Biden has proposed several early childhood initiatives, such as access to preschool for all three- and four-year olds as well as financial support so families will pay no more than 7 percent of their income on child care for children under the age of five. If passed, these changes will significantly improve the nation’s early childhood care and education infrastructure but there will still be work to be done.

A new national investment in preschool will not impact the current challenges in finding high-quality care for infants and toddlers when and where it is needed. The ECCC will adjust to fill the gaps in the early childhood system that still exist or are created as a result of any new early childhood initiatives at the national level.

Will the early childhood community center put other child care facilities out of business?

The ECCC is not in competition with other child care and education programs but is in support of them! We want to increase coordination across the entire Douglas County early childhood community so it works better for everyone including our center- and home-based providers.

Who will be paying for this?

In fall of 2021, the early childhood community center project received its first significant financial commitment from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet in the form of a Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Grant three-year pilot project award in the amount of $582,000. We also plan to request government funding through Douglas County’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) process to help us get started. While there is currently unprecedented support for reimagining the early childhood infrastructure at all levels of government, we need the support of the business community and private donors to make this work. We believe early childhood systems should be a shared investment with shared benefits across Douglas County.

Why is child care and education important to the Douglas County economy?

Quality child care and education is a public good, fueling our county’s economic engine by helping parents work while building the workforce of the future. It supports parents seeking additional education and training, which contributes to higher earnings over an individual’s lifetime. Without affordable child care and education, parents are forced to reduce their work hours or opt out of the workforce. Child care and education capacity should be an essential part of the community discussion about economic development and job growth.

Why is this happening in the Kennedy building?

USD 497 is one of the project’s collaborative partners and has available space in what is now the Kennedy Early Childhood Center. The district’s early childhood services and a Head Start classroom are already in the Kennedy building so it’s the perfect place for more early childhood services! This space is also available right now which means we can start serving children and families sooner rather than later. While the Kennedy building will provide a hub for services and outreach to the broader community, the ECCC effort is not about a building, it’s about improving early childhood systems across Douglas County.

Who will have access to these services and programs?

We are working to ensure equitable access to high-quality early childhood care and education for every Douglas County child from birth to age five. Quality child care and education has a positive impact on families with young children and is especially beneficial for children from over-burdened and under-resourced families. In national studies, the achievement gap between different income levels and ethnicities can be seen prior to kindergarten, which indicates quality child care and education may go a long way in reducing disparities which can have long-term or permanent effects on future economic stability for families. We want to make sure that every family with young children has access to high-quality services that they can afford with specific strategies in place to support the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Why early childhood from birth to five?

Early childhood is important. The first five years are the most critical period for brain development. Quality early care and education has been shown to have a profound impact on the lifelong well-being, education, and income of children. Research shows that high-quality care and education offered from birth to five years old can set children, particularly those in low-income families, on a path to higher school achievement, college completion, increased earnings, greater employment, and better health, with a high return on investment over time. If we can reach families when their children are young, they will have established the support network they need as their children grow. An investment in early childhood is an investment in the future!

Why are we doing this?

Early childhood care and education is essential to help children and families thrive — and the early childhood infrastructure impacts all other systems of support. This has become even more evident during the COVID pandemic. We plan to build on the existing child care and education environment in Douglas County to better meet the needs of our community by bringing early childhood supports and services together in one place. We will also work to increase coordination so families have an easier and more rewarding experience creating a comprehensive care and education plan to meet their child’s unique needs.

Who is doing this?

A workgroup of early childhood experts and community stakeholders has been doing the foundational work on the early childhood community center concept since June 2021. Community-based social service organizations that already do amazing work in our community are engaged in this process as well. Though we welcome new partners regularly, here are a few of our collaborative partners:

  • Ballard Center
  • Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Centro Hispano
  • Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas
  • Child Care Licensing/Lawrence Douglas County Public Health
  • City of Lawrence
  • Community Children's Center
  • Douglas County
  • Douglas County Community Foundation
  • Douglas County Early Childhood Trauma Collaborative
  • ECKAN/Head Start
  • East Heights Family Care / LMH Health
  • Family Promise
  • Just Food
  • Kansas Action for Children
  • Kansas Children’s Service League
  • Kansas Department of Health and Environment
  • Lawrence Chamber of Commerce
  • Lawrence Douglas County Health Department
  • Lawrence Public Library
  • Lawrence Public Schools
  • Positive Bright Start
  • Success by 6
  • University of Kansas Unified Early Childhood Education

Why an early childhood community center?

A recent statewide needs assessment supported what we already knew. Families with young children are struggling to:

  • meet their basic needs
  • find high-quality child care they can afford when they need it
  • successfully navigate to connect with services that could help

The ECCC seeks to address these challenges by strengthening and coordinating services to bolster the early childhood ecosystem in Douglas County and better meet the needs of our community. We plan to do this in three ways using the Kennedy Building as the hub for these efforts:

  1. Establish a Family Resource Center to help meet the basic needs of families with young children
  2. Create a Provider Academy to recruit, retain and support early care and education professionals
  3. Implement innovative strategies to increase the number of accessible, affordable and available high-quality child care spots in Douglas County

Is there really a need for more early childhood care and education services in Douglas County?

Yes. While there are child care and education programs ably serving children in Douglas County, there are not enough to meet demand. Currently, licensed facilities meet just 63 percent of the potential need. For every infant or toddler spot in a licensed facility, there are ten children to fill that spot. Douglas County has lost 19 licensed child care facilities since 2019. With fewer licensed slots, families are struggling to meet childcare needs. Difficulties range from unintentional competition among families for slots, a child care plan that is pieced together and lacks consistency, or families using unlicensed child care which can be unsafe. We are trying to scale up to meet demands and to do so affordably requires a community investment in our workforce and families with young children.

Why the focus on infants and toddlers for child care to be provided at the early childhood community center?

Research shows that investing in infants and toddlers has the greatest impact on children’s development and return on investment over time due to the number of neural connections made in the first two years of life. Early care and education programs have long struggled to provide affordable high-quality infant-toddler child care, because the low child-teacher ratios required to support safety and responsive care for this age group come with significantly higher staffing costs. As a community, we need to minimize the financial consequences of serving infants and toddlers so more providers are willing and able to care for children from birth to age two.

Kim Polson

About Us

Kim Polson, Executive Director
Community Children’s Center

The ECCC project is being coordinated by the Community Children’s Center (CCC). We are a local nonprofit with more than 50 years of service to the early childhood community in Douglas County, Kansas, and operated one of the first Head Start programs in the country. In 2019, the organization shifted our model from direct child care services to establishing community connections to build resilient children and families in our community. The ECCC project is perfectly aligned with this focus. Kim Polson, CCC Executive Director, welcomes input and engagement from families, providers and the broader community as Douglas County moves forward in this exciting work.

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