A Kentucky nonprofit association made up of agencies serving at-risk children and their families is asking the General Assembly to allocate an additional $13.5 million from the general fund to the "Alternatives for Children" line item in its budget.
Of that amount, the association - Children's Alliance - specifies that $7.5 million would go to residential facilities, $3 million would go to foster care and $3 million to intensive in-home programs.
"(Kentucky is) already paying for residential and therapeutic foster care. The problem is they're underfunding residential by $14 million annually, and agencies cannot continue to sustain that gap in services," Children's Alliance President Michelle Sanborn said.
One such residential program is New Pathways for Children, which serves kids in state custody who are between the ages of 10 and 18. There is a boys campus in Melber and a girls campus in Reidland.
The nonprofit organization, which is a member of Children's Alliance, currently employs about 40 people and houses 16 boys and six girls, but the total number of kids it housed in the fall was 35, according to NPFC Associate Executive Director Ricky Burse.
Burse said in an interview at the Melber campus that kids at New Pathways are primarily placed there through the state foster care system and the state's department of children's behavioral services. Some are also placed through the juvenile justice system.
He said the children have been removed from their homes for various reasons, including abuse or neglect, mental health issues and behavioral or substance abuse problems.
New Pathway provides the children in its care with 24-hour supervision, food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs, as well as individual and group counseling, school and recreation. The girls at the Reidland campus attend school in McCracken County, and the boys are taught in a school room on the boys campus by Graves County schools teachers.
Kids stay for nine months to a year, Burse said, during which the program works with state social workers and the children's families to help reach desired outcomes for each child.
The commonwealth covers about 80 percent of its annual budget, Burse said, and the nonprofit program does fundraising for the remaining 20 percent.
According to Children's Alliance, if Kentucky allocated the $13.5 million asked, the federal government would provide the state with matching funds at about 47 percent, bringing $9.2 million more to the table.
Sanborn explained that some of those matching dollars would come from the Federal Foster Care Program, which is authorized to award funding by title IV-E of the Social Security Act, and some would come from Medicaid for the treatment services the agencies provide.
Of the total matching funds, $6.6 million would go to residential programs like New Pathways, according to Children's Alliance.
Burse said if the state does choose to allocate the $13.5 million, it wouldn't result in 100 percent funding, but it would help narrow the funding gap that is currently filled by funds raised by local churches, groups and individuals.
Burse said Pathways uses the state money it receives for essential costs first, but other services it provides are proportional to how much money the program can raise.
New Pathways is currently constructing a new girls facility in Melber, located about four miles from the boys campus, which Burse said may be completed by May.
Burse said building the facility has cost a little more than $650,000, funds which were raised from grants and donations from individuals, foundations and churches.
Recreation is another area of services affected by the funding gap.
Burse said the nonprofit provides the kids it serves with many free activities on site and nearby - such as fishing, horseback riding and trips to local parks - but also tries to provide activities that cost money when it can.
Those outings include trips to the movies, roller skating, bowling and eating at restaurants.
"Those kinds of things, our ability to do those more is in direct proportion to how much we can raise," Burse said.
Burse said the cost of these types of outings is higher for a program than it would be for a family, not only because of the greater number of kids but also because of fuel costs, and costs of staffing the trips.
He said providing forms of recreation helps bolster the morale of the kids - who are not necessarily happy to have been removed from their homes - and are used to motivate and reward them.
Case manager Jan Jones said a big part of the program's mission is to instill hope into the lives of the kids they serve and to help them find their personal strengths.
"Ultimately, we're wanting them to become productive citizens to join us all in the community," Jones said, "because they've had hope to do that."
Burse said helping kids become good citizen is one way the program helps the community. He said it also injects the tax money the state gives it back into the local economy through the people it employs and the services and goods it buys locally.
Treatment Director Joseph Williams said the fact that New Pathways treats children who are from the area in which it operates helps the program in its mission because it makes it easier for parents or guardians to be involved.
Burse said an important part of the program is addressing issues in the kids' homes, because if a kid learns new skills and behaviors, but nothing is different when he or she returns home, the child may go back to the behaviors that got him or her into trouble in the first place.
Burse said in the future he'd like to provide services in homes before children are sent to New Pathways and after they leave, and additional funding could allow the program to provide those or other new services.
"The point really is, these kids are Kentucky's kids," Burse said, adding that they deserve the state's best interest.
Sanborn said the services provided by programs like New Pathways are mandated, and if those programs didn't exist the state would have to provide the services itself.
"I would challenge our legislators to fund necessary and required services first, then fund optional services," Sanborn said. "And I believe this is a necessary and required service that we fund our own kids. They're in our custody."
Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.
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