This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on May 22, 2013. You can find it online here.
It was not as dramatic as scenes in Frankfort can be. There was neither a gallery of cameras nor the moment of confrontation between elected leaders. But on Tuesday, a very important event took place in Frankfort. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services held a public hearing regarding the recent cuts to kinship care and child care assistance programs, which are being enacted through emergency regulations. Not only will these cuts harm the youngest of Kentuckians and clobber the most vulnerable of working families among us but will actually cost more money to taxpayers down the road. In other words, these cuts are a lose-lose-lose proposition. Bad for kids. Bad for families. And bad for the Commonwealth’s bottom line.
Since April 1, families have been attacked in two ways. No new families have been able to receive child care assistance nor can they apply for the Kinship Care Program, which provides financial support to non-parental, relative caregivers, like grandparents. This stems from a decision by the Beshear administration to cut funding for both programs — a move that was expected to save only 0.4 percent of the state budget. The cuts threaten public safety, education, the health and development of children, and the stability of families in ways that will cost Kentucky for years to come.
While these cuts are being made to save money in the short term, they will most certainly cost taxpayers more money in the long term. Some parents, unable to access child care, will lose their jobs and turn to unemployment or welfare assistance. Families unable to receive help are often forced to use a patchwork of arrangements that do not provide the stability young children need. Research is clear that parents are more likely to work when they have reliable child care. Helping families pay for quality child care makes it more likely that they can get and keep a job. Again, these cuts cast a lose-lose-lose scenario for Kentucky. Kids and families lose. Economic development loses. And the state’s budget loses.
Along with the child care cuts, Kentucky’s kids are going to be harmed because kinship care is being slashed as well. When children experience trauma — be that because of abuse or a parent dying — they recover faster and rebound better with relatives than with strangers, even well-intentioned strangers. Children living with kin also have fewer behavioral and mental health problems and experience fewer educational disruptions. Yet, our kinship families who are stepping up to care for children are faced with extreme challenges. They are more likely to be poor, single, older, less-educated and unemployed than families in which at least one parent is present. Cuts to Kinship Care subsidies will make it harder for grandparents and other relatives to help kids recover from abuse or neglect and drive more kids into the foster care system.
In addition to eliminating critical supports that lead to better outcomes for children, these cuts will undoubtedly cost our state more in the long run. A kinship care subsidy for grandparents and other close relatives costs the state $10 a day, while the average payment for kids in the foster care system is $70 a day.
Budgets are about priorities. If the governor wants his action to match his rhetoric on early childhood … if the governor wants to help kids recover from abuse and neglect … if the governor believes that preserving family ties is a Kentucky value … then the governor needs to reverse these cuts and protect the thoughtful kinds of investments that supports for kinship care and child care represent. Our children and Kentucky’s future deserve better.
Kentucky Youth Advocates