Thursday, April 19, 2007

Disturbingly high rate of child abuse in Kentucky

Commentary: Too many death
Make fixing protective services top priority
Lexington Herald-Leader, April 3, 2007, pg. A8.

Kentucky is losing more children to abuse and neglect than all but three other states and the District of Columbia.

The number nearly doubled from 2000 to 2004. Kentucky's rate of abuse and neglect fatalities is 3.88 per 100,000 children, well above the national average of 2.03.

Yet the Fletcher administration and Senate Republican leaders blocked an in-depth study of what's wrong with child-protective services.

The legislature that adjourned last week did approve $6 million to hire new social workers and improve child-protection workers' safety. That's good.

But instead of the in-depth study by an independent panel sought by the House, we have yet another study group dominated by agency insiders.

In the last year, we've read a series of disturbing articles by Herald-Leader staff writer Valarie Honeycutt-Spears about families who've been arbitrarily shattered by an agency that's under pressure to pump up adoption numbers.

At the same time, older children languish in foster care with little hope of a permanent family to see them through their teens and into adulthood.

The inconsistencies in how parental-rights and adoption cases are handled across the state prompted child advocates to dub the system: "Kentucky's other lottery."

The system of foster care and adoption has been the subject of a critical report by the state auditor's office. And a state inspector general's investigation revealed shocking, and in some cases what was described as criminal, misconduct by the regional child-protection agency in Elizabethtown, The inspector general provided a list of recommendations that should be enacted statewide.

The legislature made some progress, but really just played around the edges of the more complex problems. Likewise, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has responded with some changes and restructuring, but nothing like the overhaul that's needed.

It will take fresh eyes and outside perspectives to fix what's broken within the bureaucracy of Kentucky's community-based services.

The next governor should put that task at the top of his to-do list.


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