Friday, December 22, 2006

Kentucky concerned about Lifeway foster homes

Kentucky to check Lifeway foster kids
Kreimer, Peggy. Kentucky Post, Sept. 6, 2006, pg. A5.

Kentucky's state foster-care system will conduct in-home visits with every Northern Kentucky child placed in foster homes through the Lifeway for Youth Kentucky organization, said Joel Griffith, field service manager for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in this area.

The scrutiny is in reaction to the death last month of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel in a foster home in Clermont County that was administered by the Lifeway for Youth agency in Ohio.

Lifeway for Youth Kentucky is a separate corporation with different board and corporate headquarters, although both it and the Ohio agency are headed by the same administrative team -- executive director Michael Berner and his wife, Brenda, the assistant director of the two organizations.

Griffith said the scrutiny is a precaution, not an indictment.

"We have not had problems with them in the past and don't have any reason to suspect there are problems now," he said, "but this tragic situation with Marcus Fiesel is important enough that we want to take every precaution possible."

Lifeway for Youth Kentucky, based in Lexington, has placed about 330 children across the commonwealth and oversees 144 children in 54 foster homes in eight Northern Kentucky counties, said Dan Anderson, regional director of Lifeway for Youth Kentucky, which has 10 licensed offices in the state, including one in Florence.

Griffith plans to have state social workers do face-to-face, in-home visits with children and foster parents in Lifeway-administered homes over the next two or three weeks. The visits are in addition to regular visits and oversight routinely required by the state, he said.

Kentucky regulations require private agencies like Lifeway to have twice monthly contact with foster parents, with at least one in person. They also must see the child face-to-face twice a month, once in the home and once outside the home.

The private agency also must have a masters-level clinician who makes quarterly visits in the home and meets monthly with a treatment team that includes the case worker, counselors, the state case worker, parents and -- sometimes -- the child.

On top of the private agency's oversight, the state makes quarterly in-home visits. The state and private care agency workers must be at the foster home when the child is placed and the private care worker must make another visit within 10 days before beginning the regimen of regular visits, said Griffith.

All foster care homes in Kentucky are monitored by the state Division of Regulated Child Care. Foster families must be licensed by the state and pass background checks and regular inspections.

Lifeway for Youth is part of a network of homes that specialize in therapeutic foster care for children with severe disabilities or severe abuse or neglect. The agency was founded in 1994 in Springfield, Ohio, by Berner, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in New Richmond.

Lifeway's problems in Ohio have raised questions about the Kentucky agency, said Anderson. He emphasizes the two operations are separate, with different staffs and finances.

The Kentucky agency is licensed by the state and has national Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities accreditation.

In Ohio, Lifeway has several offices besides the one in Sharonville, which oversaw Marcus Fiesel's placement in the home of Liz and David Carroll, who are now charged in his death.

The Department of Job and Family Services offices in Hamilton and Butler counties are reviewing every Lifeway placement. Hamilton County has stopped placing children through Lifeway for Youth.

The Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services stopped making new placements with Lifeway in 2005 because of administrative difficulties. Only three foster children are in the agency's homes in the county -- two teens, and a younger child who is likely to be adopted.

There have been no problems with the homes, and Clermont County is not conducting an investigation of its Lifeway homes, a spokesman for Job and Family Services said.

Lifeway's Web site claims the agency has more than 600 children in Lifeway foster homes in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Virginia.


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