Cuts to social safety net land more kids in state custody

Unfortunate record

By Jason Probst     July 29, 2014   Hutchinson Kansas News Editorial

The state of Kansas learned some depressing and unsettling news last week: The number of children in state custody has reached record levels, with nearly 7,000 kids in custody and 6,168 children in out-of-home foster care placement.  

Those are all children whose living conditions were deemed so harmful and detrimental the state decided it must intervene and remove the children from their biological families. In fact, the number of children in foster care has grown each year since 2010, with accelerated growth since 2012. This year, the number of kids in foster care broke a record previously set in 2008 during the height of the Great Recession.

 Yet officials with the Department for Children and Families say that ballooning number is a positive signal that shows how aware people have become about child abuse and neglect and that they're taking action to protect the state's children.     

 But to chalk up to increased awareness and action ignores many of the realities in Kansas.

  • It ignores that since 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback’s cabinet has implemented a variety of policy changes that resulted in fewer families who are eligible for help with child care, food assistance and public assistance
  • It ignores that the state adopted a tax policy that is disgustingly regressive – cutting taxes for businesses and higher earners, while eliminating tax credits that benefited poor working families. 
  • It ignores that the state consistently raids the Children’s Initiative Fund – money specifically designated for children’s programs – to fill its budget shortfalls. 
  • And it ignores that because the governor and the Kansas Legislature hate “Obamacare” more than they care about Kansans, more poor families are trapped in a coverage gap where they are ineligible for lower cost insurance yet don’t qualify for coverage through Medicaid.         

 In fact, DCF reported that the number of Kansas households receiving public assistance fell from 24,567 in April 2011 to 11,867 households in April 2014 – a reduction of nearly 52 percent in three years.  

While such drastic and immediate reductions play well on campaign materials, they also carry real life consequences that can’t easily be boiled down to political talking points. And Kansas is beginning to see those consequences with more kids in the foster care system.      

Kansans should ask whether we’re really saving that much money when we remove assistance on one end, only to end up paying for the care of more kids on the other end. And since children in foster care are more likely to drop out of school, earn less money, become single parents, end up incarcerated and rely on public assistance, it’s likely Kansans will be paying for the errors of this administration for generations to come.    

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Kansas is experiencing more problems in at-risk families and that more kids are being removed from their homes. Many of these children already endured lives of desperation, made more desperate and chaotic by elected officials who are guided by their own selfish ambitions – and the misguided idea that saving a dollar today is worth spending 10 more a generation later.

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