The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services says it is hosting the “Transformers of Child Welfare” event at Cardinal Stadium to highlight efforts taking place now and in the future, to better serve children who come in contact with the system.
This summit is aimed at “anyone that has a heart for children” and is likely to draw judges, attorneys, front-line staff, case managers, foster and adoptive parents and community partners who care for children and families, said Chris Johnson, a special adviser to Gov. Matt Bevin.
“We’re going to start the day off really just talking about kind of where we are as a state,” Johnson said. The Commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, Eric Clark, “is just doing a phenomenal job of really just kind of opening up and saying: ‘Let’s own what we’ve done wrong. Let’s fix it and let’s celebrate what we’re doing right and move forward.’ ”
Kentucky has nearly 10,000 children in out-of-home care and wants to reduce the number coming into care, lighten workers’ caseloads and find permanent placements for children in a more timely manner, Johnson said.
“You have kids that are just kind of in limbo waiting for what’s going to happen to them — where they’re going to end up — and it’s just not healthy for these kids,” he said. “They need a sense of permanency.”
The summit, which will include workshops and both state and national experts, will highlight child welfare legislation that was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2018 and how it dovetails with the state’s plan to be one of the early adopters of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.
State lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation, House Bill 1, to reform the state’s foster care and adoption system so that children’s time in foster care is limited and that they are returned to their families when possible. Its provisions include expanding the definition of blood relative for child placement and making sure that children are either reunified with family or placed in another permanent home in a timely fashion.
“What House Bill 1 has done, it really kind of opened the door for us to look at all aspects of the system and it gives some new timeframes so that we don’t have kids lingering in care,” Johnson said. “So it really removes a lot of the barriers that had been keeping kids in care….so that we can get kids to permanency quicker.”
Other provisions of the approved House Bill 1, sponsored by state Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, and state Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, include requiring more case reviews for each child in foster care, creating a registry so that a child’s possible biological father could be notified of the child’s prospective adoption, and allowing the state to seek termination of parental rights for new mothers who won’t seek drug treatment after giving birth to a drug-addicted baby.
The summit also will shed light on the Family First Prevention Services Act, which Johnson described as a game changer for how child welfare is handled and put emphasis on providing prevention services to keep kids from coming into care, Johnson said.
The national Children’s Defense Fund says the act “redirects federal funds to provide services to keep children safely with their families and out of foster care,” and when foster care is needed, it “allows federal reimbursement for care in family-based settings and certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring treatment.”
Johnson said Kentucky has sometimes lacked resources to be able to support families properly, leading some children to be removed from their homes.
“If we can have more resources in place, then we can support that family and keep them from having to go through the trauma of removing their children from the home,” he said. “We can keep those children in their home, give them support services around them to keep the children and family safe, then that’s better for everyone. It’s better for the child, it’s better for the family and it’s better for the system if we don’t have so many kids coming into care.”
One of the people looking forward to the summit is Grace Akers, chief executive of the St. Joseph Children’s Home in Louisville, a private child care agency where survivors of childhood trauma, such as abuse and neglect, live and receive treatment. It’s also a foster care adoption agency.
In last 24 months, there have been 48 children adopted through St. Joseph, “and those are our best days,” Akers said. “We know that kids do best in families.”
That’s why she says she’s interested in the state’s child welfare reform efforts.
“I think that the cabinet now (has) this vision for children to live and to thrive in families. I think they’re on the right track, and we want to be a part of it,” she said.