Last year, The Shelter's intake program wasn't quite as busy as it was in 1999. Referrals were down about 10 percent.
That's good. It means fewer Lawrence-area children were crosswise with the police.
Founded in 1987, The Shelter's intake program acts as a clearinghouse for Douglas County kids who, for whatever reason, get in trouble. When a juvenile is arrested or taken into custody, police call The Shelter, which has caseworkers on duty round the clock.
"Basically, the police handle the legal part of things and we handle the social-service part," said Judy Culley, The Shelter's executive director for the past 20 years.
Sometimes, kids spend up to three days in one of two homes operated by The Shelter. Other times, they're returned to their parents.
"We have done up to about a thousand intakes a year," Culley said. "But that's been going down a little in recent years. We did about 850 last year."
It's difficult, Culley said, to know exactly why fewer kids are entering the system.
"We've talked a lot about this," she said. "Part of it, I think, has to do with the overall drop in crime rates. But a lot of it in Douglas County, anyway has to be that we're so much more in the prevention-type services, and services are getting to kids and families much, much quicker than they used to."
Depending on their family situations and on how their day in court goes, children may remain with their parents, return to The Shelter's care or be placed in a foster home.
In first-offender cases involving minor crimes, The Shelter workers can recommend working out a diversion agreement with the district attorney's office.
Last year, about 20 percent of the juvenile offender cases were diverted.
In almost every case those that go through diversion as well as those that go to court juvenile offenders are required to attend school, pay restitution and receive counseling. The Shelter workers monitor their compliance.
Last year, The Shelter's intake workers, on average, dealt with 2.34 new kids per day.
Reaching out to others
But The Shelter isn't just for kids who find trouble. It's also the area's clearinghouse for children who've been abused or neglected by their parents, or who, because of troubles at home, run away or drop out of school.
Last year, 271 of these children were taken to emergency shelters operated by The Shelter. One is at 342 Mo.; the other at 1615 Lindenwood Lane.
Seventy-three percent of these children were from Douglas County and surrounding areas. The rest are from northeast Kansas.
Culley expects to see more of these kids this year.
"It's not that there's that much more abuse or neglect going on," she said. "It's because we opened a new home in June. We went from 14 beds to 28 beds, and now that we have those additional beds they're full almost all the time."
The Shelter also oversees 22 foster homes in and around Lawrence. Last year, these homes cared for 38 foster children.
The Shelter's foster homes care for children of all ages. The emergency shelters care for children who are at least 10 years old.
Kansas privatized most of its child welfare services in 1996. The Shelter is now a foster-care subcontractor for Kaw Valley Center, based in Kansas City, Kan.
Under privatization, The Shelter also helps families adopt children who are in the foster care system. For this service, it subcontracts with Kansas Children's Service League, which has offices in Topeka and Wichita. In the past four years, The Shelter has had a hand in 96 adoptions.
"Trying to explain what we do can get pretty complicated," Culley said. "But, basically, we get money from a lot of different sources to do a lot of different things."
The Shelter's annual budget: $2.3 million.
"But in the bigger picture," Culley said, "we're here to maintain the community's involvement with children. Because there's not a doubt in my mind that this community cares about children.
"That's been proven many, many times."