Friday, December 22, 2006

This guy has got it right, but I'm not so sure that other people in KY do

State acts in child's best interest
Emberton, Tom. Lexington Herald-Leader, June 19, 2006, pg. A8.

At issue
Herald-Leader articles by Valarie Honeycutt Spears: "Foster adoption under review; some say parents' rights ended for wrong reasons," April 30; "Adoption probe snags supervisor; inspector general expands investigation into family services," May 13; "Parental rights get boost in court; appeals decision could impact inquiry into adoptions," May 30; "State to hold hearings on adoptions; women rally in Lexington to support biological parents," June 1; "Adoption system changes announced; officials say federal bonuses not a factor," June 2. Herald-Leader editorials "Mothers trying to protect children shouldn't lose them," May 14, and "Not so fast; adoption policies need legislative review," June 8

In recent weeks, the Herald-Leader has published claims by advocates alleging that the Department for Community Based Services inappropriately removes children from their parents to increase the number of state foster care adoptions and boost federal financial bonuses.

The issues raised in the articles need public discussion. But the articles offered little context or discussion of the actions the department is taking to ensure that policies are fair and procedures are enforced.

Families are sacred and must be preserved. This truth underscores all that we do at the department. When families break down, however, it is the department's responsibility to advocate for the child's well-being.

By law, the department must investigate allegations that a child is experiencing or vulnerable to abuse, neglect or dependency. Removing a child from his or her home is an extreme circumstance that is accomplished only through the judicial process.

At all stages of the process, the department commits to acting only in the best interest of the child. Although the process promotes confidentiality to protect the child, independent entities, such as the foster care review boards, are involved to ensure that a child's best interest is being served.

Determining what is best for a child is often subject to varying opinions. Parents sometimes contest a court's decision to remove a child. The decision is never an easy one. Scrutiny of the decision is not only expected, but from the department's perspective, it is welcomed to ensure that all interests are adequately represented.

Critical to the process, however, is the department's commitment and adherence to due process provided by Kentucky courts. Due process provides a level playing field for parents and advocates to voice their opinions on what is best for a child.

The insinuation that the department "fast-tracks" adoptions for a federal bonus shows a gross misunderstanding of the federal law. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 intends to encourage all states to find permanent homes for children in foster care. It is important to note that evidence supports the federal government's emphasis on seeking permanency for children.

Research shows that permanency for children is crucial to their future health and well-being and that children do not do well in long-term foster care settings. The earlier a new permanent relationship is established, the more likely a positive outcome will be achieved.

If states move children into permanent homes in a timely manner, the federal government compensates the state for its costs in moving the child to a permanent home.

In fiscal year 2005, the department paid out more than $37 million to adoptive families in adoption subsidies, designed to help adoptive parents meet the special needs of children they have adopted through the state foster care system.

Compare that amount to the $1 million the department received from the federal government for finding new permanent adoptive homes for 902 children. To say that the department seeks to gain $1 by spending $37 is nonsensical. The department's focus is to achieve the goal promoted by the law: to find permanent homes for children in temporary care.

The adoption process can always be improved, and the department has taken several steps to address concerns. The department has provided a means for field staff -- without fear of retaliation -- to voice concerns anonymously when, in their opinion, the facts do not support a decision.

Caseworkers are encouraged to use the new intranet-based system to request an independent case review. Staff should feel confident that they have the ability to speak up concerning individual cases without fear of reprisal.

The department has also requested that the Office of the Inspector General investigate concerns raised in Hardin County. Although policies and procedures are in place to ensure that due process is not abbreviated, we realize that people implement the policies and procedures. We are cooperating fully with the investigation and will address any and all findings.

The vast majority of our workers are dedicated professionals who follow the proper protocol to the letter. But even one poorly managed case is unacceptable, and the department is dedicated to finding and correcting any problems in the system.

The department and I welcome this debate because Kentucky's children deserve nothing less than our focus and attention. Working with our community partners and supporting the inspector general's investigation, we are committed to ensuring that children are safely and appropriately placed.

Commissioner of the state Department for Community Based Services


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