FRANKFORT – Children have always been a primary focus for legislators and other state leaders, but there has been a renewed effort in recent months to see how we can further improve their lives, especially those facing the toughest challenges.
Through most of last year, for example, the state House had a bipartisan task force looking for ways to streamline foster care and the adoption process, with the goal of putting displaced children in a loving home more quickly.
That work led to this year’s House Bill 1, which went a long way to accomplishing that goal. It also established a permanent legislative committee whose sole job is to assess the welfare of children and make recommendations on what other positive changes should be made.
Two findings announced earlier this fall by the U.S. Census Bureau show there is still plenty of work to do.
The most recent found that no state has a higher percentage of children being cared for by relatives. Nine percent of are being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family, which is more than double the national average.
This steep increase happened relatively quickly, too. In raw numbers, there were 53,000 children who were not living with their parents in 2013-2015, but that has since jumped to 96,000 over the past two-plus years. Most of these children are being kept informally, but the state was involved in more than 17,000 of those cases.
There are several leading reasons driving this trend, but drug addiction and imprisonment from drug-related crimes are among the leading factors.
Poverty is also on that list, but the second Census report indicates we are making some headway in this area. Two years ago, exactly one-fourth of Kentucky’s children lived in homes earning less than the poverty rate, but that dropped to 22.4 percent last year.
It hasn’t been this low since the start of the Great Recession, and in another positive sign, the poverty rates for the homes of black and Hispanic children dropped even faster, although their overall rates are still significantly higher than the state average.
Perhaps the best way to gauge our children’s welfare is through the annual KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
For nearly 30 years now, it has given states a chance to see how they stack up against each other when measuring outcomes associated with children’s health, education, economic well-being and family and community support.
Our overall rank this year is 37th among the states, but in the sub-rankings, we are in the upper 20s when just looking at our children’s health and education. Those numbers show that we are making sustained progress in some key areas.
The goal looking ahead, of course, is to find ways to keep climbing. There are a lot of things we can and should do, but the most important are continuing to find innovative ways to reduce drug addiction and increase economic opportunities for families who are living paycheck to paycheck. The more we can do within these two areas, the better off we all will be.
If you have any questions about this issue or any other affecting our community or state, please let me know. You can reach me by email at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and you can also leave a message on the General Assembly’s toll-free message line, which is staffed during normal business hours. That number is 800-372-7181, and for those with a hearing impairment, it is 800-896-0305.