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Kansas Kids Count Shows Improvements But Persistent Problems

Children share a family-style meal during lunch at the Olathe Family YMCA in Olathe, Kan. An annual report on child well-being in Kansas shows steps forward and backward for the state. (Photo: Orlin Wagner | AP File)
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1 minute read

An annual report on child well-being in Kansas shows some positive trends, but they’re overshadowed by persistent problems.

Among the improvements cited in the 2015 Kansas Kids Count report: There are fewer uninsured children in Kansas.

“That dropped to 5.5 percent in 2014,” says Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children. “That’s an all-time low, and definitely an indication that the health insurance marketplace is making a difference and that we are seeing a ‘welcome mat effect’ with respect to the Affordable Care Act.”

However, she says Medicaid enrollment rates are low for some of the state’s youngest and poorest children.

Cotsoradis also notes a slight decrease in child poverty. But she says Kansas is still experiencing high levels of poverty that don’t reflect the nation’s economic recovery.

“I hesitate to call it good news,” she says. “Even though we do appear to be moving in the right direction, we are still well above pre-recession levels, at 17.72 percent, and surrounding states are making progress faster than we are.”

Cotsoradis says Kansas had a child poverty rate of about 15 percent prior to the recession.

“Pre-recession levels of poverty is what we would be looking for, and that’s not what we’re seeing in the release of this year’s report,” she says. “This certainly goes well beyond the current (Gov. Sam Brownback) administration. This is a trend we’ve been watching in Kansas for more than a decade.”

But Cotsoradis worries about recent changes in the state’s eligibility rules for programs intended to help families living in poverty. She said Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and child care assistance have seen significant declines in participation. Those reductions are inconsistent with the poverty levels Kansas is experiencing, she said, and could be damaging to the state’s future.

“We actually want those kids to be accessing child care assistance,” Cotsoradis says. “We want those families to be accessing temporary assistance. We want children growing up in poverty to have access to Early Head Start and Head Start, because we know those are the things that make the difference — that really change the trajectory of a child’s life.”

The Kansas Kids Count report analyzes child trends at the state and county levels, and includes data for every county in the state. It is a follow-up look at the national Kids Count Databook released in the summer by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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