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Report: KY faces workforce crisis in sectors that support children

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Thursday, November 16, 2023   

New county-level data show Kentucky is facing a severe shortage of workers in sectors supporting children, including teachers, counselors, child care providers, child welfare workers and others.

Sarah Vanover, policy and research director for Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the state's more than one million children are feeling the effects of fewer education professionals. According to the report, less than half of the state's kindergartners entered school ready to learn last school year, and schools are facing declining math and reading proficiency rates.

Vanover explained part of the workforce problem is child-sector jobs tend to require a lot of work for little pay or benefits.

"These are also high-stress positions," Vanover pointed out. "Working with large groups of children, trying to support parents, working long hours, and maybe not having somebody who comes in after you; having to work overtime or longer hours when you don't expect it."

There is also an ongoing shortage of mental health professionals who accept Medicaid, at a time when one in six Kentucky teens has experienced depression or anxiety. Advocates are calling on policymakers to increase the reimbursement rates for mental health services and expand the state's Medicaid network for mental health care.

Liz McQuillen, chief policy officer for Metro United Way, said working parents pay upwards of 30% of their income on just one child's child care, and 79 of the state's 120 counties are classified as child care deserts. While the need for child care providers is dire, centers are struggling to recruit and retain staff due to low wages.

"In Kentucky, they make an average of $12.39 an hour, and so that is really dismal," McQuillen noted.

She added Kentucky could boost wages and benefits made possible by federal relief funding with sustained state funds. According to the report, one in nine Kentucky families had to quit a job or adjust work schedules because of inconsistent child care.

Keagan Dulaney, a Louisville high school student and member of the Kentucky Youth Advocates Health Youth Ambassador program, said kids want their voices heard when it comes to polices capable of improving their lives.

"Children are aware of these problems, and they have things to say about it," Dulaney stressed. "Just to make sure everybody has access to the data, so they can make a change."

Disclosure: Kentucky Youth Advocates/KIDS COUNT contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, and Children's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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