August 5, 2016

Kansas can boast that it still outpaces Missouri in the well-being of children, but that’s not saying much.

A recently released 2016 Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Countreport showed that the status of of Kansas children compared with other states either stagnated or dropped precipitously in economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Kansas’ overall ranking was 19th, down from 15th in 2015.

Missouri fell to 28th in the 2016 report from 26th in 2015, which means it was below Kansas overall both years. The Show-Me State unfortunately has a long history of underfunding programs for children, and its middling rankings point to that fact.

In Kansas, cuts in services because of draconian tax cuts have negatively affected children, and the outcome is now starting to show.

In the Kansas City area, Wyandot Inc. announced recently that more than 800 children and adults would lose mental health services because of budget cuts. Staff reductions will force the agency providing counseling, crisis intervention and housing to focus on people with more serious needs.

That only adds to the problems for children in Kansas. In the report, Kansas had the third-largest overall state ranking drop in the nation.

The high rate of children in poverty remains a problem nationwide. In the United States, more than 16 million children, or 22 percent, live in families with income below the federal poverty level, which is $23,550 for a family of four. The report notes that a family of four needs income at least twice the federal poverty level to manage basic expenses of housing, food, transportation, health care and child care. For many families, that income level is out of reach.

“Diminished opportunity for children raised in low-income families results in a huge loss of human potential,” the report says.

Kansas dropped from 13th to 24th in health for children. Missouri rose slightly from 33rd to 32nd. Some factors are poverty, poor nutrition, lack of preventative health care, substance abuse, maternal depression and family violence.

When children start off with poor health, it affects all other aspects of their lives, including their ability to learn, attendance in school and quality of life into adulthood.

School districts in Kansas have had to go to court repeatedly to receive equitable and adequate funding from the Legislature. That’s not a good sign for the future workforce of the state.

The 2016 report recommends expanding access to high-quality, early childhood education and other services so children enter kindergarten better prepared to do well in school. Access to higher education needs to be expanded so that low-income teens have a better chance to go to college and fully develop to their potential.

The report also recommends that low-income workers with children get paid family leave to help them better balance home and workplace demands. Earned income tax credits also should be increased for low-income workers without dependent children so they can better make ends meet.

These are concerns that the next president and Congress should address along with statehouse officeholders. They have to have the political will to do what is necessary to improve the lives of children and families.

Read more from the Kansas City Star.