Read about the October meeting of the Commission on Race and Opportunity here

At the last meeting of 2021 for the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity, Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) was given the opportunity to testify around the 2021 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book and solutions to advance racial equity in the Commonwealth. We highlighted two policy arenas – Health and Family and Community – that we hope can move legislative and community leaders from simply reading data on a page to truly transforming the future path for each Kentucky kid, especially kids of color.  

We first started with a common ground understanding that kids do best when adults in their families can find a stable job in their communities with predictable hours to earn enough money to put food on the table, provide a safe home, have time to engage with their child in school and community activities, and to take care of health needs. Yet more than 1 in 5 Kentucky children are growing up in poverty (21 percent), meaning they live in a household that earns $25,926 or less for a family of four. The poverty rate increases to over two in five Black children in the urban centers of Jefferson and Fayette Counties (42 percent). This is comparable to 6 counties in southeastern Kentucky in which 40 percent or more of their entire child population lives in poverty. 

Recommendations to tackle childhood poverty:  

  • Enact a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a proven way to encourage and reward work while also growing local economies.  
  • Invest in child care infrastructure by utilizing federal pandemic recovery funds to increase provider payments, improve payment policies, strengthen wages, and improve access in child care deserts in both urban and rural areas.  
  • Protect funding for current safety net programs to improve families’ financial stability, ensure children’s basic needs are met, and close the racial gaps in poverty rates. 

Next, we discussed how Kentucky’s outreach and enrollment efforts have resulted in 96 percent of children having health coverage, and public programs like Medicaid and Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) have been key in keeping children covered during the COVID-19 pandemic as many parents lost employer sponsored coverage. While efforts to connect children and parents to health insurance have narrowed disparities in coverage and accessing care for most populations, gaps remain for Latinx children (91 percent). 

Recommendations to tackle gaps in coverage for Latinx kids: 

  • Prioritize closing the remaining gap in health coverage for Latinx children by increasing investments to conduct outreach and enrollment with the Latinx population using culturally relevant messages and trusted messengers.  
  • Allow Medicaid health providers to bill for translation and interpretive services to promote culturally competent care in all health care settings to help families feel welcome, listened to, and engaged in their healthcare. 

Lastly, we shared while anyone can file a complaint against a child, law enforcement accounted for 61 percent of complaints in 2019 and schools accounted for 27 percent. For children ages 12 and younger, more than two-thirds of complaints are for status offenses – like missing school or running away – and misdemeanors, which can be more effectively addressed within the community instead of the courts. Research shows that young Black children are more likely to be perceived by adults as being older and less innocent than their White peers, which may contribute to there being more complaints filed against them. Even when young Black children have a case handled out of formal court, early charges can impact how future cases are handled. 

Recommendations included:  

  • Utilizing school-based interventions, such as restorative justice practices, means age-appropriate responses to children’s misbehavior in schools, ensures young people can take accountability for their actions, and keeps them from entering the juvenile justice system.  
  • Establish a minimum age of at least 12 years old that a child can be charged with an offense. We’re more likely to see better outcomes for public safety and for young people if we refer them to age-appropriate community-based services that can assess for and address the specific needs that they have.  

We appreciate the opportunity to testify and share recommendations with the Commission members, including the co-chair Senator Givens and Representative Heavrin. All kids face a long climb in their journey to adulthood, but kids of color have to climb a steeper hill due to longstanding inequities and specific barriers based on their skin color or country of origin. We hope that when the General Assembly returns back to Frankfort in January, the Commission members and their legislative colleagues remember that we must invest in what children need and tailor additional supports for children who face greater barriers so that each Kentucky kid will have a brighter future.  

View a recording of KYA’s testimony and materials from the testimony. Check out the 2022 Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children policy and budget priorities agenda.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels