Today’s announcement of new leadership for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Justice Cabinet is no small matter for kids in Kentucky. There are perhaps no two positions more vital when it comes to child well-being. We applaud Governor-elect Beshear for naming two outstanding leaders today.

We look forward to working with Secretary Mary Noble to enact family-focused reform of the criminal justice system. Thirteen percent of Kentucky kids have had a parent incarcerated, the second highest rate in the nation, which is a shared sentence for kids and their parents. This is an issue that invites creative solutions, such as bail reform and ways to connect parents to treatment for addiction and underlying mental health issues. While progress has been made in juvenile justice reforms there are still many issues to tackle, such as racial disproportionality and age of jurisdiction. Commonsense shifts in how we respond when children get in trouble can prevent kids from entering the maze of the juvenile justice system and ensure safer communities.

We are in the midst of a fundamental paradigm shift within Kentucky’s child welfare system. State leaders are now understanding that removing children from their homes, while sometimes necessary, is not in children’s best interest in many cases. Instead, it’s best to support whole families and do our utmost to keep them together safely. We look forward to working with Acting Secretary Eric Friedlander and his team on implementing the federal Families First Prevention and Services Act and making sure that families in need are connected to a plethora of supports like substance use treatment and therapeutic services. And when children cannot remain safely with their parents, we need to support the grandparents and relatives who are stepping up to raise them.

In terms of health, we look forward to working with Secretary Friedlander to ensure any ongoing changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program are simple to understand, participate in, and utilize to protect the health of children and their families. While Kentucky has improved rates in children having health coverage, we must work to cover the remaining gap so that all children have access to needed health care. Additionally, we hope this administration builds on the momentum of the approved state Medicaid plan amendment to allow school districts to expand health services for Medicaid eligible students.

With a record high number of children in out of home care, so many children experiencing parental incarceration, children getting stuck in the juvenile justice system maze, and thousands of children still without health coverage, we have to be smart with our policies and innovative with our approaches. We are hopeful Secretaries Noble and Friedlander will impact the trajectory for vulnerable kids and families in profound ways.

Today’s announcements can serve as a prelude to a Beshear Administration – an administration that prioritizes kids and families across the Commonwealth.