Handicapped kids' rides to camp cancelled Registrations are cut in half after Baltimore Co. decision.

June 29, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Last year, Baltimore County asked the parents of handicapped children to chip in $200 to pay for transporting each child to summer camp. This year, after another round of budget cuts, the county dropped the transportation program.

"It was not a real popular decision that we made," said Charles L. Fisher Jr., deputy director for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. The transportation program would have cost the county $101,951 this year.

Andy Levy, 9, is one of the children whose family has been affected by the county's decisions to cut $1.2 million from the Recreation and Parks budget.

Cerebral palsy has left him with the social skills of a six- to 12-month old child. He wears diapers. He cannot speak, cannot follow directions. Nevertheless, his mother says, contact with people is important to her son, which is why she is determined to make sure he is in attendance when the summer camps open today.

As a result of the budget cuts, only 300 kids are expected to enroll in the county's 15 summer camps for handicapped children -- half the number who enrolled in the summer of 1987.

Parents, many of whom work and don't have the freedom to drive and pick up their children, are exasperated by the change, said Don Schlimm, therapeutic recreation service coordinator for the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"I get everything from anger to people crying," he says.

Camps for the county's handicapped children started in the 1960s, says Mr. Schlimm. Since then, the county provided transportation for campers, a service which cost the department $177,458 in 1990.

Last summer, a lack of transportation funds forced the county to ask parents to contribute $200 per child to supplement the $98,030 bill.

Consequently, camp enrollment dropped from 519 in 1990 to 377 in 1991.

Because the camps are relatively inexpensive -- about $60 to $150 for six weeks -- they may be the only option for many low-income families with handicapped children. The lack of county-funded transportation only makes it that much harder for these families to find summer entertainment for their children.

"You just can't car pool if your child is in a wheelchair," says Mr. Schlimm.

But for Arlene Levy, the benefits of camp for her youngest child outweigh the burden of transporting him.

"There are some things in life where you don't have a choice, and this is one of them," she says.

"He likes to see people, he likes to socialize and see what other people are doing. It puts structure in his day . . . it gets him accustomed to being handled by other people."

Andy shows he is happy at camp in different ways, his mother says. He eats better, and loves to splash in the camp's wading pool. He likes the camp's different toys.

"It's important for him to go to camp," she says. "Andy loves it . . . it's going to be his main source of enjoyment for these six weeks."

But driving Andy to camp is difficult because someone must watch him at all times. County buses that transported handicapped kids had aides to help children like Andy, who also suffers from tremors and epilepsy.

"If he has a seizure in the car, I have to be able to pull over to help him," his mother says.

Getting Andy into the car also can be difficult. Though he can walk with help, Andy is not strong and cannot follow directions, says his mother.

She must lift her 50-pound son, whose weight is increased by leg braces, into the car. A stroller and a change of clothes must accompany him to camp as well. Andy's older brother, Greg, 15, who usually helps his mother with Andy, will most likely go with his brother on the trips to and from camp.

Mr. Fisher of Recreation and Parks said cutting the transportation program was an unfortunate but necessary part of the budget process.

"That was one of the areas that we unfortunately decided would be reduced," he says. "It was not something that anyone wanted to do."

The department did manage to help some parents arrange car pools, but could not find a private bus company to provide the transportation services at a reasonable cost. And, the increasing cost of transportation from such companies was a budget item the county couldn't control, said Mr. Fisher.

For Mr. Schlimm, county budget problems have made his job extremely frustrating.

"This office has been a mess since this whole thing started two years ago," he said.

"It's easy for those who make the decisions because they're isolated from Joe Citizen. They don't hear the moms crying."

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