Friday, December 22, 2006

Location, location, location

State care for children criticized
Yetter, Deborah. Louisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 5, 2006, pg. B1.

The quality of care Kentucky provides children who are abused or neglected depends upon where they live, according to a report released yesterday by children's advocates.

"If you live in the right county and get the right worker, you're going to win," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, which helped conduct the six-month study, called "The Other Kentucky Lottery."

No particular event prompted the report, based on a confidential survey of 255 social workers, school officials, families and others around the state who called a hot line or sent e-mail responses.

The intention is to warn that Kentucky's social- service system needs more money and better management, said David Richart, who wrote the report and is executive director of the National Institute on Children, Youth and Families in Louisville.

"It's just a sad day when the state can't pull together enough resources to protect abused and neglected kids," he said.

State officials said they welcome the review and are moving to fix problems; they are asking for 20 percent more money in the next state budget.

"We need to support our people, we need to supervise them, we need to train them and give them the tools they need to do their job," said Dr. Eugene Foster, who oversees social services for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The survey found that people were frustrated by delays, bureaucracy and lack of resources, and they said the cabinet is too quick to remove children from homes instead of trying to keep families together, Richart said.

Some complained of disrespectful or rude treatment by state workers, he said.

LaVerra Stoner, 32, a single mother whose three children were removed by the cabinet in 2003 for alleged neglect, said she thinks the state should have done more to help before asking a judge to terminate her parental rights.

"They weren't trying to help me," said Stoner, an emergency medical technician who lives in Louisville. "They didn't give me a chance."

The cabinet cannot respond to questions about specific cases because under Kentucky law they are confidential.

Stoner's children were placed with a cousin, who adopted them.

Jennifer Jewell of Louisville, director of Women in Transition, which helps low-income women, said some of her group's members have had their children taken because they couldn't afford housing or utilities.

"Poverty has been mistaken as neglect," Jewell said.

Richart said that nearly half the children removed from homes are taken because of neglect, which could stem from their parents' poverty.

Foster said the cabinet seeks to remove children permanently from homes only as a last resort.

"The evidence is that we reunify many more children with their families than we remove," he said.

But Foster said the cabinet is trying to improve and recently launched pilot projects in Fayette County and Northern Kentucky to provide more intensive service to 100 families with children at risk of being removed.

State seeks more money
The study found that the cabinet is supervising about 2,440 children in their homes because of abuse or neglect, about 1,000 more than five years ago.

Last year it temporarily removed about 6,260 children from their homes, up more than 1,300 from five years ago.

The number of social workers has increased from about 1,300 to 1,500 over that period, according to statistics provided by the cabinet.

Funds for social services have stayed flat or been cut in recent years because of the state's fiscal problems, the study said.

Foster said the state is trying to keep caseloads to no more than 16 families per worker, the level recommended by the Council on Accreditation, which accredits Kentucky's program.

Caseloads now are around 16 to 17 per worker.

21st-century equipment
The cabinet spends about $318 million a year on social services for children.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown , said yesterday that the program is under funded and that he supports the cabinet's request for increased funding.

"We've got to bring the regional offices into the 21st century with technology," Lee said.Most social workers don't have laptop computers or cameras, and teams of workers share a cell phone, Foster said.


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