In an announcement that was heavy on optimism but light on details, the Kansas Department for Children and Families introduced a mentoring program for families receiving cash assistance.
The Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program involves mentoring 1,100 people receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments, also known as cash assistance. It will expand in July to youths about to age out of the foster care system, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.
Jim Echols, provider services coordinator for DCF, said the program will be based on an effort in the Kansas Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism through mentoring. The program will focus on education, responsibility and family, he said.
“Most in the public would like to see more personal responsibility on the part of those we serve,” he said.
Many people benefit from informal mentoring relationships with their parents, teachers, coaches or religious leaders, Echols said, but some people don’t have those positive connections.
Mentors will complete a training program and commit to meeting with the person they are paired with for one hour per month for one year, Echols said. Participation is voluntary for TANF recipients.
Gov. Sam Brownback said he thought mentors would help people living in poverty in ways that government programs can’t. He also said it was a rewarding opportunity for volunteers.
“Until there’s a person-on-person connection, you really miss a part of what life is about and how we improve as people,” he said. “The person who volunteers to mentor to get someone out of poverty, you will get more out of this than anyone else.”
Kansas first lady Mary Brownback did a ceremonial signing Wednesday to become the first mentor to commit to the program. She also announced she would be an “ambassador of goodwill” for DCF to encourage people to become mentors.
“It’s a little like parenting or being a friend, telling them, ‘I think you should do this.’ And I think we’re all capable of that,” she said.
The program was announced during a meeting of the governor’s Social Services Policy Council in Topeka.
Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for DCF, said the department will host a daylong training session for prospective mentors on Jan. 20. DCF will attempt to partner cash assistance recipients who are interested in participating with mentors from similar backgrounds, she said.
“We want the participants to accept the advice and be willing to make a difference in the lives of their families,” she said.
People interested in being mentors need to fill out a one-page application and pass a background check. Freed said more specific information about the training that mentors will undergo is being finalized.
In a statement released after the mentoring program was announced, Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, called the proposal “smoke and mirrors.” She said Kansas policymakers already had removed many families from cash assistance due to time limits, and the state wasn’t investing in existing anti-poverty programs.
“In light of the fact that thousands of families have lost access to cash assistance, it’s ironic we're talking about them needing mentors,” she said. “What they need is access to cash assistance. They need to be able to pay for housing and diapers and child care.”
Megan Hart is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach her on Twitter @meganhartMC