Sunday, February 11, 2007

Kentucky child welfare system has been broken for a long time

Editorial: Overhauling child welfare long overdue
Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 5, 2007, pg. A13.

State Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, is pushing for badly needed reforms to Kentucky's child welfare system, especially improved worker safety and the hiring of as many as 220 more social workers.

Rep. Lee intends to call his proposal the "Boni Bill" in honor of Boni Frederick, the social worker who was murdered in October when she took a baby to visit the mother whose rights were about to be terminated due to neglect."It's unfortunate that the impetus behind doing this is someone being killed," he said.

But even before Ms. Frederick's death, the failings of Kentucky's child-welfare system were well known.

Money is clearly a problem. Kentucky is a poor state, and social workers here on average handle more cases than is recommended. (WHAT ABOUT THE CURRENT BUDGET SURPLUS IN KY?)

But money isn't the only problem, argues Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who favors a more nuanced approach to repairing the system than what Rep. Lee seems to have in mind.

"The real nuts and bolts of restructuring that organization needs to be done with a lot more research," he said.

So Rep. Wayne is calling for a "cultural audit" conducted by a blue ribbon panel to get at what he says are big problems in the system, including its 30 percent staff turnover rate and its difficulty recruiting staff.

In Rep. Wayne's scheme, the blue ribbon panel would work from April through October and would craft specific recommendations for the legislature to consider next year.

What's likely shaping up is a vigorous and overdue debate in Frankfort that should generate meaningful, long-lasting improvements to a system that has been broken for a long time.

To whatever degree possible, Kentucky needs a child welfare system that protects all the parties involved, but especially the children, who are in no position to help themselves.


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