Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."
On Feb. 16, the Kentucky House of Representatives' Health and Welfare committee unanimously passed House Bill 364. They did the right thing shining legislative light on the issue of cruelty to children — the abused and forgotten kids in our child welfare system.
HB 364 then naturally went to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee where it died, just like too many of Kentucky's at-risk kids. The cause of death? "There is no money!" No money for these kids? The legislative lights went out.
The heartbeat of HB 364 was to address Kentucky's broken child-welfare system, part of which was to enforce existing laws related to children who are wards of the state and receive care through private providers across the commonwealth.
The only money needed was regarding KRS 199.641 and 922 KAR 1:360 which require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to reimburse private child-caring agencies their allowable costs to care for the children whom the state is legally and financially responsible to serve.
Non-profit, private agencies care for half of the state's kids who cannot live at home or with a relative. At best, the cabinet currently reimburses non-profit, private agencies 80 percent of the allowable costs for intensive residential treatment; agencies have to raise the remainder to care for state-agency-children.
Where does that remainder come from? The taxpayers pick up the slack through donations and other support.
The law is ignored and has not been followed for years. Mission-driven, private agencies, through the help of mission-driven taxpayers, pick up unpaid child support that state government, even though ordered by law, refuses to pay.
Ironically, Gov. Steve Beshear's budget included additional funds "to sustain the Child Support Enforcement program at its current level." We agree that child support enforcement is very important. What would a judge say to a dad who refuses to pay the full mandated child support for his kids because he is spending at minimum 20 percent on something else?
The governor's budget had millions of dollars allocated for a plethora of other projects. Money was not the problem. The problem is priorities. Our at-risk kids are not high enough on the priority list.
Yes, the governor did allocate additional money to hire more social workers, but that doesn't solve the problem as to where these abused, innocent, suffering kids will go.
Non-profit, private providers are breaking under the pressure of raising more money to care for more kids on tighter budgets. State taxpayers are affected by the economy which results in their inability to provide the necessary support these providers need to care for innocent victims who need a home.
Peruse the amendments to the budget bill the House passed and you will find several examples of what the commonwealth deems more important than our children.
Just a few include: increased funding for commonwealth's and county attorneys, farm programs, conservation districts, reimbursement for officers serving in courts, animal shelters, a Washington, D.C. internship program and educational television.
All of these are worthwhile and important and I am certain the House can justify each one. The question is how can we fund these and not find money to care for our victimized children?
If private agencies go out of business — and some will — the state still must fund child welfare; it will just pay more. Why will we not make "the least among us" the "first among us" and non-profit, private agencies caring for them valued partners?
I am convinced if the public really knew the plight of these kids they would demand the executive and legislative branches of our government put caring for them above animals, trees and television.
Is former president Mandela right? You make the call and then call the House and Senate leadership and tell them what you think.