Op-Ed

Kinship care bill is an affront to struggling Kentucky families

Kinship Care: Rarely has so much disservice been done to so many by so few. The “many” are the abused and neglected children and the heroic relatives and fictive kin who without prior notice, planning or preparation step up to care for them. Kentucky leads the nation with 9 percent of its children in relative care, more than double the national average of 4 percent.

The “few” are Kentucky’s political leaders who, unwittingly or not, continue to shortchange children and relatives. This, despite federal law (the Child Welfare Act of 1980) protecting children’s rights to payments and providing reimbursement to the state for most of the cost (roughly 70-75 percent).

The “disservice” is Frankfort’s perennial public pleas of concern for these poor children and their relative caregivers followed by empty promises, false hopes, confusion and gut-wrenching anxiety.

House Bill 2 is the latest affront. On the surface it looks great. At a hearing the bill was sold with the promise that it “basically reinstitutes the Kentucky Kinship Care program that was stopped in 2013 and gives services that are needed to help grandparents, relatives, fictive kin that would help the child along with the needs of their lives.”

But that is not so. This bill does nothing to restore the Kinship Care program, which provided $300 per month per child in permanent relative/fictive kin custody.

In fact, this bill does little to nothing that is not already provided by federal and state law. It says “The Cabinet shall develop custodial, permanency, and service options, including but not limited to monetary supports” for relatives and fictive kin caregivers of abused, neglected or dependent, children and then disclose these options to the caregivers who shall select the option that best represents the level of care and support needed for the child while the child is receiving treatment and care with the relative or fictive kin.”

Cabinet leaders sell the bill as providing relatives with options and informed consent, so they can pick and choose what they think they need. These options include such services as KTAP (Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program using federal TANF funds for all poor children), food stamps, child care assistance, and Medicaid and the option to be a foster parent.

But guess what — children are already entitled to these services. What relative in their right mind would choose not to get them for their loved ones? To reject them is itself a form of child neglect, so why is the state legislating a procedure that could mislead a relative to reject a service that up to now was automatically provided for these vulnerable children? And provided for good reason: such poor, vulnerable children unquestionably need these services just to survive, much less overcome the hurt they have heretofore experienced.

Further, federal law already deems approved relatives and fictive kin as foster parents and therefore entitled to the roughly $750 per month of foster care maintenance payments that every other child who goes to non-relative foster care now gets. One lawsuit secured those rights, and a second one is now in progress to ensure they are protected for all such relatives and fictive kin.

Under the cover of kinship care this bill appears to do anything but. It seems more like a scheme to avoid responsibility, not accepting it.

We don’t need another law. We need will. We need will to restore the Kinship Care program. We need will to follow federal law and provide foster care maintenance payments on behalf of all children in temporary foster family homes, which by law includes the homes of relatives and fictive kin (non-family who have a significant relationships with the child) caregivers.

And we need focus. Government’s main duty is to promote the greater good, not corporate welfare. Instead of spending hundreds of millions each year on wasteful, unaccountable and largely ineffective business tax incentives (The New York Times reported Kentucky spent $1.41 billion per year, according to a 2012 study) we should be properly funding essential services to those most in need.

If government was ever constituted for anything, it was for the protection of these, the least of us.

Restoring Kinship Care will be an uplifting action of, by and for the people. It will inspire all, restore hope to all, and add immeasurably more to the spirit our commonwealth.

And you can’t put a price on that.

Richard Dawahare of Lexington is an attorney.

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