Douglas County is a good place to be a kid. But it would a lot better if decent day care weren't in such short supply.
A recent survey by Lawrence/Douglas County Partnership for Children and Youth found that Douglas County families have access to 225 fewer day-care slots today than they did three years ago. At the same time, families are being asked to pay more.
Also, the survey found that almost as many day-care centers open as go out of business. Last year, for example, 33 facilities opened, 34 closed.
"This is an issue the cost and capacity of child care that really needs to be addressed," said Melvin Herrington, executive director of Partnership for Children and Youth.
The survey's findings coincided with the release Friday of the partnership's Third Annual Children's Report Card for Douglas County.
Overall, Douglas County scored a B+. It got A's in the "education" and "teen-years" categories, a B in "health," a C+ in "safety and security," and an Incomplete in "child care."
Herrington attributed the 'incomplete' to problems in matching county data with state data. But it's clear, he said, that Douglas County would have gotten an A or an A- if the day-care situation had improved.
Last year, Douglas County was given a C+, overall.
"Getting a B+ this year is wonderful," said Richard Minder, a spokesman for Success By Six, a coalition of local child-care advocates. "Now, we ought to focus on getting an A."
This year, Minder said, Success By Six helped create 19 day-care openings for infants and toddlers by providing financial assistance to programs willing to expand.
Success By Six hopes to do more in 2002, but without increased support from the private and public sectors, he said, those efforts are likely to fall short.
Most of these efforts, Minder said, are underwritten with money from the state's share of the national tobacco lawsuit settlement.
Other survey findings:
l In Douglas County, the rate of substantiated reports of child abuse and neglect stands at 12.9 of every 1,000 children. That's slightly more than the statewide average of 12.4.
l Almost 18 percent of the schoolchildren in Douglas County live at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline, making them eligible for free school lunches. The statewide average is 24 percent.
l In 1998, 5.5 percent of the babies born in Douglas County weighed less than 5.5 pounds at birth. Two years later, the number increased to 6.4 percent. The statewide average is 6.9 percent.
l Two Kansas counties, Riley and Thomas, were given A's, overall, on their report cards.