In Lawrence, it's almost impossible to find decent day care for infants and toddlers. All the good providers are swamped and saddled with long waiting lists.
"It sounds crazy, but I tell people that as soon as they find out they're pregnant, they need to start looking. It's that hard to find," said Jennifer Allen, who owns and runs One of a Kind Progressive Child Care at 4640 W. 27th St.
At One of a Kind, all 38 slots for infants and toddlers are full.
"We get calls all the time, constantly," Allen said.
The service is scarce, she said, because it's "extremely expensive to provide."
State regulations require a licensed day-care facility to have at least one teacher for every three infants, newborn to 12 months, and at least one teacher for every five toddlers, 13 months to 2 1/2 years.
"We employ 15 people to staff our two infant rooms Â each room has nine babies," Allen said.
Services can be costly
The situation is compounded by most young families' not being able to afford what a day-care center needs to charge to show a profit.
A recent Douglas County Child Development Assn. survey found that young families can expect to pay $141 a week for infant care at a day-care facility; $114 a week at a licensed home. For toddlers, prices range from $102 to $125 a week.
Though some families can afford a parent to stay home to care for an infant, many cannot.
"People need to work to support themselves," said Donna Masoner, executive director at the Douglas County Child Development Assn. "And at the same time, they want and they need someone who'll provide quality day care, a place where they know their child will be safe, well-fed and well-cared for."
To help make this happen, Douglas County Child Development Assn. is part of the Success By Six Coalition, a group of local agencies, programs and churches that last year received $192,778 in state tobacco settlement funds. About one-third of the money is used to offer subsidies to day-care providers, large and small, willing to add slots in their programs for infants and toddlers.
The maximum subsidy is $65 a week.
"In the past year, we've opened and maintained 13 slots spread across nine in-home providers," said Rich Minder, Success By Six's lone employee.
To get a subsidy, the day-care provider agrees to complete five hours of child-development training every three months.
"The idea is not only to increase the availability of infant-toddler (day care), but to enhance the quality as well," Minder said.
Success By Six also offers incentives aimed at improving services provided.
Megan Othick, who runs Play To Learn, a day-care facility, from her home in Baldwin, gets a subsidy.
"I have two (infants), but I only get a subsidy for one because (to be eligible) you have to have them for 35 hours a week, and I only have one of them here for that many hours," she said.
"It's great. It's a nice incentive, and it enables me to get a lot of additional training."
Success By Six also helps day-care providers buy safety equipment Â carbon monoxide detectors, for example Â attend training sessions, and, if they want, expand their services.
Grant extends to program
Success By Six's tobacco-money grant also underwrites the Family Resource Team, a voluntary program that helps troubled families with young children work through their problems before they escalate to a point of abuse or neglect.
Family Resource Team members include counselors from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Community Living Opportunities and Kansas University's Child and Family Service Clinic.
The team is working with 35 families in Douglas County, a process that includes weekly, in-home counseling sessions with family members. Four families are on the program's waiting list.
Success By Six's Minder also is working with child development experts at KU on a checklist for knowing when a child is ready for school. He hopes the checklist will help child-care advocates eventually launch Â and go after more tobacco money to support Â a campaign to ensure that readiness.