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Child advocates share their year's work

Posted: Friday, Apr 20th, 2012

Afterschool Partnership, Voices for Children, Kids Count speak with local child advocates

BROOKINGS Brookings Area United Way and the Children's Musuem of South Dakota joined together Thursday afternoon to host a report from three South Dakota organizations that look after the interests of children.

One of the group's data shows that assistance for Brookings County families is on the rise. And another group is promising that officials will continue to push next year for increased state regulation of home childcare businesses.

South Dakota Afterschool Partnership, South Dakota Voices for Children and South Dakota Kids Count all sent representatives to the Children's Museum this week, to present data they've collected and work they've done during the past year for the well-being of children.

Carole Cochran of South Dakota Kids Count reported data published by the 2011 South Dakota Kids Count Factbook. The report is published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and it includes specific information about Brookings County. The foundation also publishes a nationwide data book, in which South Dakota ranked 21st out of 50 states during 2011.

"The purpose of Kids Count is to provide accurate , current data on child well-being in order to inform local and state discussion about how to secure better futures for all children," Cochran said.

The Factbook includes state and county data for five broad areas of child well-being : Demographics, health, education, economics and safety.

Her data includes that Brookings County children participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) rose from 46 in 2009 to 56 in 2010 and again to 63 in 2011.

Likewise, Brookings County households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rose from 538 in 2009 to 732 in 2010, up to 799 in 2011.

And in the Brookings School District, nearly a quarter of children qualified last year for free or reduced-price lunches, according to Kids Count.

Find all state, region and county-specific infor- mation at www.sdkidscount.org. After-school programs

Erin Bofenkamp, director of South Dakota Afterschool Parnership, reported on after school programs within the state.

She said quality after school programming includes an array of safe, structured programs that provide school-aged youth with supervised activities designed to encourage learning and development, any time outside the typical school day.

"We really focus on statewide partnerships that support policy development for afterschool, secure resources to sustain new and existing programs , and ensure that programs are of high quality," she said of S.D. Afterschool Partnership. All communities have afterschool programs, but they are most prevalent in large communities with a population of more than 10,000, Bofenkamp said. They are held in schools, community buildings and churches. About half of South Dakota's after-school programs have been in operation for less than 10 years.

Funding is the largest obstacle for these programs. Programs that have existed the longest generally have diversified funding and in-kind support , a board of directors that supports them, and they operate at full capacity and are present in communities with more than 5,000 residents. Daycare regulation

Susan Randall, executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children, introduced her organization and Greg Boris, its senior policy and program specialist .

Boris is a full-time lobbyist for the organization while the Legislature is in session. He spoke about several legislative bills during the 2012 session that would affect children, including those that would establish an early learning council, end South Dakota's tax on food, and regulate home childcare businesses .

"Our focus is that children be healthy, educated and safe. We tend to focus on issues and put our energy behind issues where children traditionally do not have champions," Boris said. "We'll put our energy behind issues such as safety in homebased child care. In that particular area, there are no organizations in the state that talk about safety in child care, we are the one and so we put our energies there."

Senate Bill 163, which was introduced by Brookings Sen. Larry Tidemann, would have required family day care businesses serving seven to 12 children to register with the state. Currently, only those with 13 or more children must register, while smaller businesses may do so voluntarily.

Boris said South Dakota's rules for family daycare are the laxest in the nation: If a business serves 12 or fewer children, no one checks to make sure toxic chemicals are kept away from children, that the workers don't have a record of child abuse, etc.

"There is no second set of eyes to provide direction, plus there is no training expectations for people who provide homebased childcare. So, having something as simple as infantchild CPR is not an expectation ," Boris said. But the bill was defeated on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. S.D. Voices for Children plans to introduce a similar bill in 2013. When an audience member Thursday asked why it was defeated this year, Tidemann said he's not sure, but the proponents presented a strong case.

"It was early in session, but we had a lot of people lined up. A couple people didn't understand that it was just registration ; they thought there would be a fee, that it was going to cost people money to do this. Actually, it would have provided training, it would have opened up some doors to provide assistance," he said.

"They think we're taking away people's rights, and I'm saying we're trying to protect the rights of people who can't protect themselves."

Senators were concerned that state staff in the room for the discussion did not speak in favor of the bill, he added: That was because the governor did not give them permission to do so.

"The secretary and staff were very supportive of the bill but they couldn't testify in favor of it," Tidemann said. Randall said Voices for Children is looking for local representatives to create grassroots support for the daycare legislation it will introduce next session .

Brookings County already has licensed with the state Department of Social Services one group family child care home and 41 registered family child care homes.

Also licensed with the state in Brookings County are five child care centers and six beforeand after-school programs.

This is the first year Kids Count, South Dakota Afterschool Partnership and South Dakota Voices for Children have come together to brief people across the state about their findings and activities for the past year. Cochran said the group traveled to nine cities in nine days with its presentation , including Vermillion, Yankton, Rapid City, Spearfish, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Aberdeen and Watertown. Brookings was its final stop. Contact Charis Prunty at cubben-@ brookingsregister.com.

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