By Carli Mosby, Kentucky Youth Advocates intern

At the moment, our lawmakers are working hard to craft and pass a two-year state budget that would fund the state Cabinets that provide child protection, education, and health services.  Governor Matt Bevin released his proposed budget during the State of the Commonwealth and Budget Address, and the Kentucky House passed their version of the executive branch budget earlier this month.  The Kentucky Senate is now working on their version of the budget, after which any differences between the versions must be resolved prior to the session ending in mid-April.

In his proposed budget, the Governor demonstrated his commitment to protecting Kentucky’s children by securing additional funding for adoption and foster care, as well as frontline social workers.  Of particular note was the Governor’s allocation of funding to reopen the Kinship Care Program. The House maintained those investments in Kinship Care and the system that cares for children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

The children being raised by relatives or close family friends who are placed by the Department of Community Based Services are placed due to abuse and neglect in the home.  Oftentimes these relatives are taking in sibling groups, not a single child.  In general, Kentucky grandparents raising grandchildren have a lower median family income than the state’s general population and are likely to struggle financially because of the costs of raising children unexpectedly.

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 caregivers.  Since the 2013 freeze, however, no new participants have been enrolled in the state program.

Currently, our elected officials are looking to reopen the program in an effort to support those individuals who have taken on the difficult, yet rewarding, task of caring for relative children.  In the version of the budget passed by the Kentucky House in HB 200, funds to reopen the program were maintained from the Governor’s budget, and we ask the Senate to do the same. There are also two bills proposed, House Bill 230 and Senate Bill 31, that seek to permanently establish a program for kinship care and provide additional supports for kinship caregivers. Supportive programs for kinship caregivers and fictive kin are also included in House Bill 1. These measures demonstrate a clear commitment by elected officials to ensure these children have the supports they need.

Kinship caregivers are some of the most passionate advocates, and we encourage all families raising kin to communicate with elected officials about the rewards and challenges of being a kinship caregiver. Take action by asking your state Senator to maintain funding allocations to help re-open the Kinship Care Program, to recruit additional social workers and reduce social worker caseloads, to fulfill relative foster care payments based on the decision by the Sixth Circuit Court, and to consider additional supports for kinship caregivers. Find out who represents you in Frankfort here. Track the progress of the proposed executive branch budget, HB 230, and SB 31 on the Kentucky General Assembly Bill tracker here.