There will be more "latch-key" children in Lawrence and Douglas County this summer than there were in 1989, according to a local day care provider.
The increase in the number of children who must look after themselves while their parents work is one expected byproduct of the financial troubles that face the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Service.
Shirley Phillips, administator of the United Child Development Center, 946 Vt., said that this summer the state will not provide extra funds to finance day care for school-aged children of income-eligible families. So more children will be left to fend for themselves while their parents work.
"I THINK that is a real tragedy," Phillips said. "In prior years, we were able to open summer camps for families with school-aged children. This will mean more latch-key children this summer."
The lack of summer day care assistance for the working poor is just one result of an SRS budget crunch.
Increasing caseloads and costs of state social programs some of them mandated by the federal government at times caused friction between the 1990 Kansas Legislature and Gov. Mike Hayden's administration.
Since November 1989, SRS has operated under a freeze on providing day care funding for any new children. The freeze also is taking a toll in this area.
Jim Baze, SRS section chief in Lawrence, said 165 children in 132 income-eligible families in the Lawrence/Topeka area are on a waiting list for child care assistance.
Phillips, who also serves as funding committee chairman of the Douglas County Child Development Assn., said this number does not tell the entire story. She said a number of working parents who previously were on the waiting list have given up and removed their names from the list.
"AFTER THEY wait a certain period of time, they have to make a change," she said. "Some find day care with relatives or in a private home, where it's cheaper."
Baze said there is concern that families are forced to find cheaper day care for their children. He said the "quality of care" becomes an issue. Phillips said the lack of affordable day care options sometimes forces parents to quit their jobs.
"Or they (parents) had to delay either going to school or getting into a training program," she said.
People involved with child care in Douglas County say the area has been especially hard-hit by the state funding situation. And they wonder why Douglas County's appears to have been singled out.
Officials with the Douglas County Child Development Assn., along with Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, have tried for weeks to get an accounting of the level of funds coming to Douglas County for child care this fiscal year. They say funding previously allocated for this area has been shifted to other areas of the state.
DOUGLAS COUNTY started out this fiscal year with an allotment of more than $900,000. The allotment dipped to $831,000 because of funding shortages. But the county actually received less than $700,000 because money was transferred to other areas.
Winter said that despite letters he has sent to the SRS, he has never received a full explanation for the shift.
"I've asked them to justify the cut, but I didn't get a satisfactory answer," he said. "It's just ridiculous what's going on in that office."
Janet Schalansky, Topeka-area director for SRS, confirmed that money originally targeted for Douglas County was transferred to other area offices. But she said the practice is not unusual, and she thinks an error occurred when funding levels originally were set.
"I think there was an error from the beginning, and other areas were underfunded," she said.
SCHALANSKY added that the Topeka area, which includes Douglas County, may have been getting more money than it should have.
"We're 10.2 percent of the state population, and we've been getting considerably more day care (funds) than that," she said.
But Winter doesn't think SRS has adequately answered his questions about funding for Douglas County.
"They've been trying to put a happy face on a sad situation," he said. "I have never received an adequate explanation about why it is Douglas County's child care funds were apparently frozen earlier and longer than other areas."
Schalansky, who was appointed Topeka director last November, said the overall problem can be traced to the shortfalls in the SRS budget because of decreasing state general fund dollars and cuts in federal block grants.
SHE SAID allotments have "jumped around based on what it looked like as far as state general funds."
Schalansky met with day care providers in Douglas County earlier this month in an attempt to explain the funding situation. She said she has not been able to uncover anything improper that was done in transferring funds from this area to others.
"What I'm working on at this point is to get an assurance that this area gets a fair share of allocations" next fiscal year, which begins in July, she said.