Friday, December 22, 2006

Churches to provide neutral sites for parents to visit with children

Program aims to curb foster care
Parent advocates to help substance abusers keep kids
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 25, 2006, pg. A1.

More than 1,000 Jefferson County children are in state care — most taken from homes where adults abused drugs and alcohol.

Statewide, about 7,000 children have been taken from homes because of abuse or neglect, and about 80 percent of the cases are related to substance abuse by adults.

Yesterday, the state announced it may have a way to keep some of these families together. Kentucky will spend nearly $1 million in nine communities on a program that will team troubled families with full-time parent advocates who have been involved with social services and completed a recovery program.

"The parents are more receptive once they're convinced that you were just like they are," said Robert Clayton, a single father who serves as a parent advocate in Jefferson . He regained custody of his son after a social- services investigation and has been in recovery 13 years.

The state already uses part-time parent advocates in Jefferson to work with some families, said LaRonda Davis, a state social worker who coordinates the program. Parent advocates can be a powerful influence on parents facing allegations of child abuse or neglect, she said.

Parents often are skeptical until the advocates "start telling their stories," Davis said. It makes an impact when an advocate tells a mother, "Listen, honey, my kids were taken — I know what it takes to get them back," she said.

The program, called START, or Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team, also will rely on local drug courts, which emphasize treatment and recovery. Social workers and the parent advocate will work with families to help them change and keep their children.

About $6 million in additional state funds will be used to pay for treatment — a scarce commodity in many communities where advocates say more drug and alcohol services are needed, said Tom Emberton Jr., Kentucky's commissioner of social services.

The state also will provide funds for child care and transportation since those are obstacles for low-income parents to attending drug or alcohol treatment, Emberton said.

The biggest portion of the funding — $300,000 — will go to Jefferson County, which has the highest number of children in state care because of abuse and neglect. Metro United Way supplied $75,000 of the funds for the county. Other communities to be served are Barren, Boyd, Fayette, Kenton, Magoffin, McCracken and Metcalfe counties and a 10-county region around Lake Cumberland.

Emberton said Kentucky studied a similar program in Cleveland that he said has been highly successful. A spokesperson wasn't available for the Cleveland project yesterday, but Emberton said "Cleveland has seen a dramatic drop in out- of- home child care."

That provides better outcomes for children, since research shows children raised in foster care are more likely to have their own children placed in foster care. It also saves the state money — Kentucky spends about $40 million a year in Jefferson County alone to care for foster children, he said.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who joined Emberton for the program's announcement in Louisville, said the goal is to reduce the rate of children coming into state care and improve their families' lives."We want to find the help they need to help them stay together," Fletcher said.

Also yesterday, officials announced $35,000 in grants to two Louisville churches that provide neutral sites for parents to visit with children who have been taken from them.

State officials wore black lapel ribbons in honor of Boni Frederick, the state social service aide slain last week in Henderson while taking a 9-month-old to a home visit.

Family court judges have said more such sites are needed for court-ordered visits.

Fletcher said Frederick's murder "brought to mind the difficulties and the dangers workers face when addressing this difficult issue." The mother of the 9-month-old and her boyfriend, who allegedly fled to Illinois with the baby, were arrested and charged with Frederick's murder.

Pastor Jerry Stephenson, whose Midway Church of Christ operates one of the visitation centers for parents and children in Louisville, said he's delighted the state is expanding efforts to address substance abuse in child- abuse and neglect cases.

"For most of the families, drug and alcohol abuse is the No. 1 reason, " he said. "I am thankful that this initiative is taking place because it's getting at the root of the problem."


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