LETTER: Children should be our priority

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The Health and Welfare committee of the Kentucky House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 364 on Feb. 16. This was a critical vote not only as a first step towards a solution to our broken child welfare system; it was a committee of legislators doing what is right for Kentucky’s most innocent, vulnerable and overlooked suffering citizens. State-agency-children, those in the temporary or permanent custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, are the ultimate responsibility of state government. I applaud Representative Yonts, the cosponsors of the bill, and the entire committee for hearing and acting on behalf of these kids. Now, will making the needs of this voiceless population remain a priority as HB 364 goes to the Appropriations and Revenue Committee?

Families, not government should raise children. However, when families, for any reason, cannot or will not provide safe places to live, caring oversight, sufficient food and unconditional love to the children, someone else must.

Every day, individuals, families, businesses, and governments have to make tough budget decisions. Wisdom dictates that we make decisions carefully, giving full consideration of what is truly important. It is not easy or comfortable, but when money is tight, a line must be established between the things that are essential and the things that are optional; between the many issues that are important and the ones that are a must. Shouldn’t the neglected, abused, victimized kids of Kentucky be a frontline issue at the top of the priority list for us?

The violence and damage done to a child by a parent or guardian not only harms that child, but all too often, that cycle of abuse is repeated in the next generation. Recent headlines across Kentucky have made it quite evident that child abuse continues to plague every county in Kentucky. Lawmakers must work to make sure that there is adequate funding to prevent and identify abuse, hold those accountable who have abused, and most importantly, help those children who have suffered.

New or renovated sports arenas, park projects, community centers and other revenue-demanding initiatives can all be beneficial to society, but when those things take precedence over the well-being and safety of our children, it signals that we have confused our priorities.

Our elected officials are under public scrutiny; they cannot please us all. However, I think we can all agree that the House Health and Welfare Committee deserve our thanks and support for putting the kids first. Good job. Now we ask the Appropriations and Revenue Committee to do the same.

William K. Smithwick

President and CEO

Sunrise Children’s Services