When it comes to improving health care access and other goals for children, Missouri’s recent legislative session can be summed up as small victories amid big disappointments. After an election year filled with campaign rhetoric about helping children, it appears that most promises went unfulfilled.
Given the financial climate in the state and country, we do feel fortunate that programs for children and families largely escaped cuts in their budgets. One prime example is our ability to continue the funding that allows families to take uninsured sick children to certain qualified medical facilities and receive treatment under the presumption that they are eligible for state children’s health insurance enrollment.
But health-care expansion has to be at the top of the disappointment list. Particularly troubling was the failure of proposals to expand health-care coverage to 27,000 uninsured children and to insure an additional 35,000 low-income parents. Children are more likely to be enrolled in health-care coverage if their parents are covered. In denying parents coverage, lawmakers have made it more difficult for children to get the preventive care that keeps them well.
Another disappointment was failure again this year of the proposed Quality Rating System for child-care programs. It would help parents assess the quality of care and education their children are getting. Gains were made though as the House approved the legislation for the first time. However, it later was defeated in legislative wrangling over a massive education bill.The House vote for the legislation, however, should encourage children’s advocates to try again next year.
During these tough economic times, it is important to enact policies that help people to hold down jobs and continue to provide for their families. A major victory this year was hard-fought legislative approval to spend $42 million in federal stimulus dollars.
Other successes for children and youth include stronger physical education requirements, a “Foster Care Education Bill of Rights,” a $1.6 million increase in the state’s allowance to foster parents so they can purchase clothing and diapers for the abused and neglected children in their care, a state council to coordinate education from pre-kindergarten through college, a fund to support drop-out prevention efforts in school districts and a Child Witness Protection Act to help children who must testify in judicial proceedings.
The 2009 session particularly was disappointing for children’s health care, but we are confident that Governor Nixon will do what he can to reach out to families with children who are eligible but not yet enrolled in the state’s children’s insurance plan.
Charron Townsend is President of Partnership for Children,a Kansas City-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving life for children and youth.