SD needs to put money where its heart is on children, coalition saysDuring Gov. Bill Janklow’s second eight-year run, he instituted a series of after-school programs that included funding. Those dollars dried up during Gov. Mike Rounds’ administration and have not been replaced.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
South Dakota loves and values its children. At least, that’s what its citizens love to tell themselves and others.
“But we have to be willing to invest in them,” said Susan Randall, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children.
Randall was one of the speakers at an hour-long presentation and discussion Wednesday afternoon in Mitchell on the status of children in South Dakota. The meeting, hosted by Anew United Church of Christ at LifeQuest, drew about 15 people who listened to the three speakers and asked a few questions.
The speakers represented South Dakota Voices for Children, South Dakota Kids Count and the South Dakota Afterschool Partnership. Mitchell was one stop on a nine-city tour.
Randall said agencies that offer support to children and their parents, and provide programs to assist them outside school classrooms, play a vital role in the state.
“Of course, this has come about because so many parents are in the workforce,” she said. But those agencies struggle to make ends meet, Randall added. During Gov. Bill Janklow’s second eight-year run, he instituted a series of after-school programs that included funding. Those dollars dried up during Gov. Mike Rounds’ administration, Randall said, and have not been replaced. Funding is the top concern and the primary reason programs fail, she said.
Parents’ fees are the primary fiscal driver, with parents paying $2 to $3.30 per hour for such services, according to Randall. Some federal funds assist, including school lunch dollars, and school districts and cities offer help, as does a county in one case.
Old standbys such as bake sales, car washes and other fundraisers also help keep the lights on and staffers paid. In-kind donations, at higher levels than other community service programs, also play a key fiscal role, Randall said.
She said the best way to ensure programs continue is to seek money from as many places as possible.
“It’s really important to diversify your funding sources,” she said.
Randall urged people to “build a compelling program” to fill all available slots and keep the program alive and well. She said not all children have access to a “safe and healthy environment” after they leave school. “That is why we have to come together as a community and create and support programs,” Randall said. Greg Boris, South Dakota Voices for Children’s senior policy and program specialist, offered a review of the 2012 legislative session, based on the organization’s point of view. Boris said the defeat of Senate Bill 163 is particularly galling.
The bill sought to require registration of family-based daycare facilities that serve 12 children or fewer, he said.
Under current law, anyone can offer services for children in their home if they serve fewer than 13 kids, Boris said.
“They can be just out of a ‘pen,’ out on a sex abuse charge, doesn’t matter,” he said. “No one is watching.”
There are more than 900 family children’s care centers in the state that are voluntarily registered with the state. They are not assessed a fee.
Some cities and towns, including Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen and others, mandate registration and background checks for workers and people who live in the homes where services are provided or spend time around children.
No one knows how many children are spending time in unsupervised care centers, he said.
Boris said South Dakota Voices for Children took a stand on 23 bills during the recent legislative session, some it actively supported or opposed, others it endorsed and, in one case, it initiated a bill.
It considered action on 14 bills a “gain” for kids, and eight bills a “loss.” In one case, a bill on notifying the death or disappearance of a child within a certain time passed and became law after it was “narrowed” in scope, and the coalition took no stance on that.
“We focus on bills that may not have a champion for children,” Boris said.
He quoted South Dakota first lady Linda Daugaard in saying that parents need help at times and pointed to House Bill 1208, which would have created the South Dakota Early Learning Advisory Committee.
It failed to pass.
“So that was a loss for kids,” Boris said.
Senate Bill 121, which would have expanded Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women and would have set aside money for it, was defeated, which was also a negative for kids, in his view.
But he said it wasn’t all bad news. House Bill 1055, which the coalition supported, passed. It will allow joint physical custody of children after a court orders joint legal custody if it’s in the best interest of the child.
The coalition opposed two bills calling for drug testing of recipients of public assistance. Boris said the program would be expensive, difficult to enforce and redundant on other programs.
Rep. Mark Venner, R-Pierre, the sponsor of the bill, will reintroduce it in 2013, Boris said.
Boris urged people to speak to their legislators now and tell them how they feel on those issues. Don’t wait until the start of the new year when the session is under way to do so, he said.