By Carli Mosby, Kentucky Youth Advocates intern
Even with the special session to address pension reform expected soon, legislators are looking ahead to the legislative session that will include the crafting and passing of a two-year state budget. As many Kentucky families know firsthand, budgets can be tough. Ensuring that money coming in will cover the necessary costs of life can, at times, be difficult and stressful. Kinship caregivers who have willingly stepped up to provide care for the children in their family know this all too well.
One kinship caregiver from Hardin County, Norma Hatfield, recently explained the hard realities that go along with stepping up to care for relative children when they can no longer remain safely at home. At the Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources, Norma shared the stories of several relative caregivers, often grandparents on fixed incomes, who had drained their life-savings to provide the basic needs of children placed in their care.
These kids shouldn’t feel that they are the reason their relative has lost everything they have. These families deserve support.
All children deserve a safe place to call home. Unfortunately, however, there are times when children are unable to safely stay at home with their parents. When this happens, the next best option is for children to stay with relative caregivers that can provide a safe and familiar place for them to call home. Research shows that children being raised by kin are more likely to keep ties with family, experience less trauma at parental separation, and have fewer educational and behavioral disruptions.
Nearly 7% of Kentucky children are currently being raised by kinship caregivers, many of whom are placed by the Department of Community Based Services (DCBS) due to abuse and neglect in the home. Many kinship caregivers are grandparents raising one or more grandchildren. Kentucky grandparents raising grandchildren have a lower median family income than the state’s general population and are likely to struggle financially, with more than a quarter of kinship families living in poverty.
Prior to a 2013 budget cut that froze funding for the Kentucky Kinship Care Program, kinship caregivers were eligible to receive $300 per month, per child. Although the stipend likely did not cover all expenses kinship families faced, it helped alleviate some of the strain and stress on kinship caregivers. Since the 2013 freeze, however, no new participants have been enrolled in the state program.
Although our state lawmakers are given the challenging task of making tough choices this budget session, it is important that they prioritize the thousands of children in Kentucky being raised by kinship caregivers. This includes lifting the moratorium on the Kentucky Kinship Care Program, as well as providing kinship families with other supports that will ensure Kentucky’s children are raised in a safe and stable environment. Recently, DCBS has offered child care assistance, sometimes without a co-pay, as a support option for kinship caregivers.
The future of Kentucky depends on strong and prosperous communities that support families and children. We hope that as our policymakers gear up for the upcoming budget session, they will invest in Kentucky’s children. Kentucky can only benefit when our budget reflects our priority and commitment to the well-being of our children.