Nearly 60,000 KY children are raised by family members. They deserve more support. | Opinion

Robert F. Kennedy said, “The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” For the children of Kentucky, we certainly have our work cut out for us. For several years, Kentucky has been number one in child abuse and neglect. Right now, we’re ranked number five. We place many of these children with relatives or with close family friends in what is known as “kinship care.” The kinship care relatives aren’t the biological parents but are grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even older siblings, etc.

In Kentucky, there are approximately 59,000 children raised in kinship care. Of that 59,000, there are 58,000 kids being raised by their grandparents.

What’s troubling is when these children are placed with kinship caregivers and into the child welfare system, there are just not enough supports for them. While we are slowly getting better, we just aren’t where we should be. It’s important to note that many kinship caregivers have worked all their lives and contributed to society. I’ve had communications with thousands across Kentucky who are struggling as they take these kids in and do their best with very little. Some are in their 40’s and 50’s and oftentimes lose their jobs because they take in babies born addicted to drugs. Some lose their jobs because traumatized kids require so much therapy and treatments that they just can’t work. Some are in their 60’s and 70’s living on Social Security or Disability. Many are taking more than one child, such as sibling groups of three to five children. Over time, they’re draining savings accounts or losing their cars and homes, all in the goal of keeping these kids out of foster care.

One of the resources that Kentucky legislators and the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) have pointed relative kinship caregivers towards is called the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP). KTAP is temporary financial assistance for those in the 40% and below Federal Poverty Level (FPL). For example, that’s a family of four with a gross income of about $1,096 a month.

There are many things about KTAP that should be changed at both the state and federal level, but right now our Kentucky state legislators have a big opportunity to help families as DCBS has proposed an increase in the amount allocation. According to DCBS during an administrative hearing on Dec. 13, 2022, these federal funds are already available and do not affect the Kentucky state budget.

When I first became aware of the proposed KTAP increase, I was shocked to learn that the monthly amount that families receive hasn’t been increased since December 1995. There’s been no consideration to inflation or cost of living whatsoever. From 1995 till now, this program for example, has provided someone with four children only $328 a month. Now, DCBS wants to increase that to $656 a month; which in a period of 27 years is seriously overdue, especially with the levels of inflation today.

In good conscience, I have to ask how? How is it acceptable to keep benefits from these low-income families? How can we be ok with leaving those struggling to keep traumatized and abused children out of foster care at an economic level of over 27 years ago?

I’m reminded of former Rep. Mary Lou Marzian at the Dec. 13 hearing who shared that the legislature voted themselves a cost of living raise. So many of us have received some type of cost of living increase over the years, but our low-income families have been forgotten. It’s time to do the right thing.

I know many of our legislators and they work hard on behalf of the kids of Kentucky. In fact, many are champions for our children. However, we just need them all to step up and address this oversight right away – an oversight that has been there for almost three decades now. The KTAP funds are there and for this purpose. Legislators need to approve the proposed KTAP regulations to help our Kentucky families now.

Norma Hatfield of Elizabethtown has been raising two grandchildren for the past eight years. She is president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and a member of the Grand Voice Network with Generations United.