Effective today, April 1, about 2,900 children and 1,600 families on average a month will not be able to access public financial assistance for child care. It seems a cruel joke that this is occurring on April Fool’s Day.
Freezing applications for the child care assistance program will not allow any new families to receive assistance. This move, while expected to save the state some money, makes up 0.4 percent of the state budget. However, the effects will be felt much more dramatically in the lives of the families, the children, and the child care providers affected. If only this were an April Fool’s joke.
This move, while seemingly saving money in the short term, will likely cost more money in the long term. Some parents unable to access child care might 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 and that can easily fall through, causing further disruption for children. Research is clear that parents are more likely to work when they have reliable child care, and they find it challenging to work when they do not. Helping families pay for child care makes it more likely they can get and keep a job. Several past waiting list studies indicate that without child care assistance, parents turned to welfare.
To make matters worse, the state has also stopped new applications for kinship care providers. Kinship care is a program providing financial support to non-parental, relative caregivers, like grandparents. This allows grandparents or other relatives to care for children when the parents are unable. It also prevents children from entering foster care or group homes. Research shows that kids recover faster and better with relatives than with strangers, even well-intentioned strangers.
In addition to eliminating critical supports that lead to better outcomes for children, these cuts, like those to child care assistance, will undoubtedly cost our state more in the long run. A kinship care subsidy for grandparents and other close relatives costs the state just $300 a month, while payments to foster care parents costs around $600 a month (a conservative comparison that does not even account for the additional state costs for case workers or residential care).
Our kinship families who are stepping up to care for children are faced with extreme challenges. These families 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.
Today and in the months to come, thousands of families will be left wondering whether their inability to access kinship care and child care subsides is a cruel joke. Budgets are about priorities. If helping kids recover from abuse and neglect and preserving family ties are important, then the governor, Cabinet officials, and legislators need to protect those investments. Our families deserve better. Our children, Kentucky’s future, deserve better.