Monday, January 22, 2007

Parents testify to problems; Cabinet hides behind confidentiality

Tales of horror about child welfare
Hearing reveals program problems
Alford, Roger. Kentucky Post, Jan. 18, 2007, pg. A6.

Dakota Greyhawk lost custody of his son last summer after state child welfare workers accused him of neglect and placed the boy in foster care.

The Louisville landscaper thought he would be able to clear the matter up and get 5-year-old Dakota Seth back home. Instead, Greyhawk said he has hit legal roadblocks at every turn, and he fears the state may put his son up for adoption.

"I feel like the system is nothing but a legalized black market for kids," Greyhawk said. "I want my kid back."

Greyhawk was among about 75 people who gathered in Frankfort on Wednesday for a public hearing that was intended to gather suggestions for improving the state's welfare system. Most of those who attended were biological parents or grandparents who told horror stories about children being "snatched" away by state workers.

The public hearing came just a week after the inspector general in the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services released a report detailing numerous problems in the state's foster care program in the Elizabethtown area.

Investigators planned to turn some evidence over to prosecutors to possible criminal conduct.

The report said some regional managers for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services abused their power in removing children from their biological parents, failed to follow standard operating procedures, and retaliated against staffers who complained about the problems.

David Richart, a longtime child welfare advocate in Kentucky, said testimony presented at the hearing showed that problems in the state system extend far beyond Elizabethtown.

Mother after mother walked to the microphone to tell their stories. Yvonne Gagen of Louisville lost custody of four children ranging in age from 1 to 5 years, and she said she was told it was because she couldn't read.

"Now they're gone," she said. "I have no life."

Lorie Cox of Louisville said social worker took her children based on a safety issue after she filed a domestic violence complaint again a former boyfriend. That was three years ago, and she said she has been unable to get her children back despite ongoing legal appeals.

"The system is very messed up," she said. "I'm desperate."

Vikki Franklin, spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said she couldn't discuss any of the cases because of confidentiality laws.

Donna Crawford-Gongelez, right, comforts Yvonne Gagen while she speaks during a public hearing held by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort Wednesday.


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