Friday, December 22, 2006

Kentucky is off-balance regarding decisions about foster care

Editorial; Balancing speed with care
Louisville Courier-Journal, July 9, 2006, pg. H2.

Everyone agrees that child protective services should aim to reunite children with their biological parents whenever possible.

And everyone agrees it's imperative to prevent kids from languishing too long in foster care, between permanent homes.

But sadly, balancing these two charges has proven a challenge for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

A flurry of criticism followed reports this year that the cabinet has been too hasty in removing some children from their birth parents and placing them with adoptive families.

Such "quick-trigger" adoptions — encouraged, it seems, by federal incentives for expeditious relocation — have led to a sharp decrease in the number of children ultimately reunited with their parents or placed with relatives.

Amid the scrutiny, the cabinet has reacted admirably, first instigating a statewide investigation into the practices of social workers (so far, one has been placed on paid leave) and then, last week, appointing a blue-ribbon panel to probe adoptions procedures.

The panel, composed of lawmakers, child advocates, social workers and academics, is sure to provide a valuable third-party perspective now missing from the state's own in-house inquiry.

Notably absent from the board, however, are advocates for the poor, for abused women and for African Americans, all of whom are among those most likely to have children removed.

These voices are quite relevant to the debate, as quicker adoptions mean permanently separating children from parents who need time to work through problems or escape abusive situations.

In recent legislative hearings, parents came forward to criticize the cabinet for placing their children in adoptive homes while they were in domestic abuse shelters or working to kick drug and alcohol addiction.

For many years, Kentucky lagged behind other states in placing abused or neglected children in permanent homes.

But that doesn't mean the government should now err on the side of reckless haste when deciding the future of a child in foster care.

The new panel must help restore a healthy balance.


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