Friday, December 22, 2006

Foster children's needs are hidden in the shadows

Smithwick, William. Lexington Herald-Leader, May 30, 2006, pg. A7.

May is National Foster Care month. April was Child Abuse Prevention month. Both designated months serve as reminders of a population of children that is easily overlooked.

The children fortunate enough to get out of abusive homes and into Kentucky's child welfare system usually go unnoticed except for those who work directly with them or serve them in some ancillary way.

Educators, physicians, social workers, law-enforcement and other human service professionals see these children who live in a system just beyond the sight of most citizens.

It is as if they live just beyond the light of normalcy in the shadows.

These shadow kids we can easily ignore or forget. They do not pay taxes or vote and have only the voice of those who care for or about them to speak up on their behalf. No one wants to see children suffer.

The breakdown of the family and a plethora of other issues result in 70,000 reports of abuse and neglect annually in Kentucky. If 70,000 cases are reported just how many unreported children of all ages live neglected, suffering from inadequate food, health care, supervision, safety and all the basics every child needs?

How many more innocent victims are there who suffer, through no fault of their own, physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of those who should protect them?

The final budget passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher included some increases for the children living in the shadows and those who faithfully care for them.

Everyone who serves these children is appreciative of the additional resources and the hard work it took to get it. But, we must not be content with the incremental increases over the next two years thinking the shadow children and the system that cares for them have the adequate provisions they need.

Private providers who contract with the state have had only one de minimis increase in reimbursement rates since 1999. A small increase was passed in the budget but will not become effective until July 1, 2007.

The state system still needs more caseworkers. While all are appreciative of the increase in funding the essential question remains, "Why is this population of innocent, abused and suffering children not higher on the state's priority list?"

Because our society as a whole and families in particular are not getting better, the number of children and youth living in out-of-home care has reached nearly 7,000.

Some people may despise and view the irresponsibility of these abusive and neglectful fathers and mothers as a drain on us all. The question, "Why help those who will not help themselves?" leads us to the crux of the issue.

Kentucky's young victims of abuse, neglect and criminal acts are dependent upon someone to help them since they cannot care for themselves and their parents will not. There may be resentment toward dysfunctional parents but there must be a differentiation between the abused and the abuser.

Assistance cannot be withheld from these children because of the sins of their parents.

Perhaps as a society we do not want to see the atrocities of child abuse around us and would hope it will go away or at least go someplace where we do not have to see it. Someplace like the shadows, just beyond our definition of normalcy, the place most of us like to think we live.

Let's all thank those who inched the plight of these children and the fragile system that supports them up the state's priority spending scale. The increases will help.

But, at the same time ask ourselves these salient questions: "Why does it take an extra effort to adequately fund the needs of innocent children? "What priority does any society have that is greater than its children?"

Our future will provide the answers.

President of Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children


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