Monday, January 22, 2007

Problems in Elizabethtown are also statewide

Parents out to strengthen child custody testify
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 18, 2007, pg. C5.

FRANKFORT -- Parents whose children were removed by state social workers converged on Frankfort yesterday to officially record their stories.

They wanted to make sure their experiences would have an effect as legislation is drafted to make improvements in the way social workers remove children, place them in foster care and terminate parental rights to facilitate state adoptions.

One woman from Fayette County said common criminals are treated better than parents under investigation by state social service workers. She said the actions of social workers and court officials should be considered human trafficking.

Kentucky's inspector general issued a report last week on a yearlong investigation of a social service office in Elizabethtown, which showed that social workers lied in court, falsified documents, acted spitefully toward parents and focused on adoptions rather than reunifying families.

Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti offered recommendations -- including opening court hearings on child removals -- that he said pointed to fixing problems across the state.Proposed legislation based on the OIG recommendations and those offered by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services's Blue Ribbon Panel on Adoption is expected to be presented to the General Assembly.

Several people who spoke yesterday said new laws should make sure social workers don't hold biological families to unreasonable standards.

Mary Henderson of Lexington said cabinet officials should realize the problems in Elizabethtown exist statewide.

Henderson's children were about to be adopted by foster parents in 2005 when Fayette Family Court Judge Tim Philpot decided Henderson had resolved her problems and should regain custody. State social workers were pushing to terminate Henderson's parental rights.

Henderson said yesterday she tried in vain to tell cabinet officials that state social workers were mishandling her case. And she says she's concerned because the same social workers continue to handle cases in Fayette County.

"When," Henderson asked, "is something going to be done?"


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