The #SafeReturnKC webinar series, hosted by several civic and community leader groups across the KC region, continued on April 22 with Return to Workplace: Childcare & Mental Health Support for Employees. This session focused the challenges parents have related to childcare, with a loss of more than 3,000 childcare seats in the KC metro due to the COVID-19 pandemic 

Moderated by Carolyn Watleythe vice president of community engagement at CBIZ and incoming KC Rising co-chair, panelists from local employers Black & VeatchChildren’s Mercy and the Mid-America Regional Council shared insight and examples on how they’re supporting their employees with a focus on flexibility. 

Panelists included:

  • Andrea Bernica, associate vice president, employment & corporate counsel, Black & Veatch 
  • Jovanna Rohsdirector of early learning and Head Start, Mid-America Regional Council
  • Molly Weaver, senior director of talent acquisition, Children’s Mercy 


Jovanna provided data that illustrated the challenge parents are having related to childcare. 

  • There has been a loss of more than 3,200 childcare seats in the KC metro with 130 programs permanently closed and even more temporarily closed. This also results in approximately 400 early education teachers being displaced from jobs.  


  • As a result, we have more parents (mostly women) choosing to stay home or pause their careers. 
  • Summer months that are already stressful for parents as they navigate the “patchwork quilt” of care options, are even more pressured-filled this year as childcare options remain fewer than pre-pandemic. and the KC STEM Alliance offer listings of summer programs to consider. 

The panel also offered steps employers can take to alleviate some stress.  

  • Company leadership should lead by example, focusing on results over routine and putting emphasis on the ability to work unconventional hours.  
  • Honor a “kids calendar alert,” when there are routine times that parents need to be present for their kids 
  • Acknowledge and say “hi” to kids when they make an appearance in meetings  
  • Cultivate opportunities to connect with co-workers 


The webinar also incorporated discussion with Black & Veatch and Children’s Mercy. 

Andrea shared Black & Veatch’s thoughtful approach since the beginning of the pandemic with a team effort looking across considerations for safety, legal and how people “feel.” The firm doesn’t plan on returning to full capacity moving forward– and created three workplace tiers: 

  • In-resident – coming into the office full-time 
  • Flex/Hybrid – in the office 2-3 days a week 
  • Mobile professional – local but remote 

*Pre-pandemic there was already a virtual opportunity to work remotely outside of the region. 

To support employee mental health, Black & Veatch is also seeking out training staff in Mental Health First Aid. This helps non-clinical individuals identify mental health issues through patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors – either their own or in a colleague (not a diagnosis but an informed sensitivity.) The training provides direction on action steps on how to address an issue and reduce stigma around mental health challenges – treating it as any treatable illness. 

Molly shared how Children’s Mercy regularly surveys employees to learn what is causing them stress, and Molly noted that this consistent outreach helps the hospital understand the shifts in employees’ needs over time. For example, at the start of the pandemic employees were focused on children and personal safety. Moving further into 2020, employees were worried about eldercare options, and now, Children’s Mercy employees are sharing how critical flexibility is to them post-COVID.  

NOTE: Throughout the panel discussion, it was reinforced that flexibility should be universally applied, not just for parents. 

Watch the full #SafeReturnKC webinar: Return to Workplace: Childcare & Menal Health Support for Employees and register for the next #SafeReturnKC webinar: Future of Office Space & Operations taking place on May 19th from noon-1p.m.