TOPEKA — A coalition of Kansas advocacy groups proposed Monday the state invest $30 million to qualify for a matching federal grant to expand mental health, substance abuse and parenting programs to strengthen at-risk families and reduce child abuse and neglect.
The proposal shared with Gov. Jeff Colyer, Gov.-elect Laura Kelly and members of the Kansas Legislature seeks funding to participate in the Family First Preservation Services Act, which prioritizes keeping families together and was signed by President Donald Trump in February.
“Kansas currently spends 3 percent of its state and local child welfare dollars on prevention compared to the national average of 17 percent,” said Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas. “Investing $25 million in state funds to expand home visiting, substance use treatment and mental health services would bring our state to the national average.”
The letter to Kansas lawmakers said the coalition settled on an overall request of $30 million from the state because average was “nowhere near good enough, when it comes to the safety and well-being of our state’s children.”
The plan would earmark $10 million for parent education and training, including Early Head Start and programs specific to strengthening families; $10 million for mental health initiatives, including interventions and family therapy; and $10 million for substance use offerings, including residential treatment that allows women to bring children with them.
“We recognize that the funding recommended above is not inconsequential. We also agree that Kansas has much room to improve,” the coalition said.
She said the Colyer administration’s strategy was to request $4.7 million to fund improved programs for families preservation over two years.
In addition to the Children’s Alliance, the coalition endorsing the larger proposal included Behavioral Health Association of Kansas, Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, The Children’s Shelter, DCCCA, Eckerd Connects, Kansas Appleseed
Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, Kansas Children’s Service League, Kansas Family Advisory Network, Kansas Head Start Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness -- Kansas and National Association of Social Workers -- Kansas.
Appelhanz said the state didn’t do enough to work with at-risk families until neglect or abuse came to the attention of authorities and prompted removal of children from the home, which has lead to overloading the state’s underfunded foster care system.
The coalition recommended lawmakers expand eligibility for preventative medical care under Medicaid and repeal the HOPE Act, a Kansas statute signed by former Gov. Sam Brownback that diminished the safety net for low-income families.
“We stand ready to work with you to translate this agenda into legislative and regulatory policy. We are also committed to engaging the public, sharing this consensus stakeholder agenda and publicly recognizing policymakers who play leadership roles in advancing a pro-child prevention agenda,” the letter to legislators said. “But we will not be divided, and we will not be dissuaded.”