Douglas County taxpayers will likely pick up the cost of a program previously funded by the state that aims to help children with behavioral problems before they get in trouble with the law.
County commissioners are expected to vote next week on a budget for 2014. Within that budget is $44,102 in new funding for The Shelter Inc., an agency that provides services to juvenile offenders and children in need of care.
Since 2005, however, the Shelter also has offered early intervention services for children — most of whom are 13 years of age or younger — who exhibit troublesome behavior that often could escalate into criminal activity.
“This is a prevention service," said Judy Culley, who heads the agency. "These are not kids who have been arrested for anything, or abused and neglected. They are kids who are having difficulties that the parents are asking for help with, before it reaches the point of actually hitting the system in some way or another."
For the last several years, Culley said, The Shelter has received grant funding from the Kansas Department of Children and Families, typically around $50,000 a year, to provide that service.
But earlier this year, DCF announced it would no longer fund those kinds of grants to local agencies. Instead, the department said it would divide the state into four regions and award one contract in each region to larger social service agencies that could provide a wide array of family and community services.
On Wednesday, DCF announced that a $343,750 contract for the Kansas City region, which includes Lawerence, will go to DCCCA, a social service agency based in Lawrence that provides a wide range of services throughout much of Kansas.
DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said the change is meant to ensure greater accountability for the money, and to make sure those funds were reaching the largest number of people possible in all areas of the state.
Cindy Riddell, who will manage the new program from DCCCA's office in Lenexa, said the agency will continue providing the same kind of intervention service that The Shelter has provided. However, under the contract with the state, it will only provide those services to children and families who are referred by DCF.
And that, local officials say, is a major difference, because The Shelter's focus has been to reach children before their problems escalate to that point.
"It's the voluntary nature that I think is so important," Culley said.
"I really believe when folks are asking for help, and the kids are obviously needing help, that's the time when we really ought to step in and help folks with their kids' behavioral problems," she said.
Commissioners put the additional money into the budget before the state announced Wednesday that the regional contract would go to DCCCA. All county officials knew at the time was that The Shelter was losing its grant, and commissioners wanted to make sure the program continued to be funded.
After the announcement, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he would recommend keeping the money in the budget, at least until officials can see what level of service is being provided through the new contract with DCCCA.
"The Shelter has always had the discretion to provide service without having to get prior approval," Weinaug said. "The commission may decide that (the new arrangement) is not the same level of service. Those details haven't shaken out yet."
The county commission will hold a public hearing on its proposed budget at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Commissioners are expected to vote after that hearing to finalize the budget.