Every weekday around 4 p.m., Kimberlee Thomas walks up her street. She carts a stroller with 1-year-old Ziyona as 4-year-old Zahmall and 3-year-old Kiyrrauh dance more than they walk.
The family finally reaches the apartment, just blocks from Sandbox Child Care Center where the kids spent their day.
“Our kids have been there for so long, they know everybody. It's a second home to them,” Thomas said.
Thomas got an unnerving call Monday. It was Dane County Human Services telling her she would have to move to a different day care.
That message was repeated in a letter she received Tuesday. In black and white, that note said the Wisconsin Shares subsidies Thomas relies on to keep her kids in day care would not be accepted at Sandbox starting Saturday.
“They never said, 'This is getting serious, this is what happened,'" Thomas said. “We just got a phone call, basically saying they weren't going to pay for it anymore. We needed to find somewhere else to take our kids.”
Thomas said it’s been less than a year since the center was upgraded to the top rating the state can give a day care facility.
“To go from five-star to this is ridiculous,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the majority of parents are in similar situations, not able to afford child care without the government’s help. She said some could be fired for staying home with the kids. Thomas is unemployed, but said looking after her children will make it harder for her to find work.
“They are going to be staying home until this is over with,” Thomas said. “I don't feel it's right.”
The Department of Children and Families confirmed all child care subsidy authorizations at Sandbox will be revoked effective Saturday. In a statement, DCF Communications Director Joe Scialfa said the agency met with Sandbox staff on Jan. 23 to discuss billing concerns.
"The provider failed to supply a satisfactory explanation for those concerns," which also involved attendance records, Scialfa said.
The statement went on to say that Sandbox can still operate as a child care provider, but not for children who participate in the Wisconsin Shares program.
According to online records on DCF’s website, Sandbox did face a number of violations in 2012 and 2013. Those violations ranged from out-of-date vehicle and employee records to issues with signing kids in and out of the facility. Those records also confirm Sandbox maintained a five-star rating, the highest on the YoungStar rating system.
The owner of Sandbox Child Care Center refused to comment on the situation, following the advice of her attorney.