Monday, March 17, 2008

Concern about racial bias in Kentucky foster care system

Former state employee speaks out against foster care
WBKO, Mar 16, 2008.

Bowling Green, KY - A former state employee says Kentucky officials are backing off an initiative to try to prevent racial bias in the foster care system.

Last year, Delanor Manson was asked to lead the effort to educate social workers, school officials and others about bias.

That came after the Cabinet for Health and Family Services admitted that the number of African Americans under the state's care was disproportionate to their numbers in the population.

Manson was fired in January by Governor Steve Beshear's administration, and now says the state is backing off the initiative.

However, officials with the Cabinet say they have put about $260,000 in state funding behind the effort.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Clermont County needs more foster parents

County in need for foster care homes, families
Coomer, Regan. Florence Community Press.

With about 350 children in foster care and 80 to 90 foster homes in Clermont County operating at any given time, the Department of Job & Family Services is forced to send half of these children out of the county to homes in networks that are owned by businesses that provide foster care services.

Going into foster care is traumatic for a child no matter what, said Tim McCartney, director of Job & Family Services, but add moving out of the county to that, removing the child from the extended family, schoolmates and friends, and the child undergoes even more strain.

"But, we have to do it to make sure children have a safe environment to be in," McCartney said.

Erica Boller, a foster care supervisor in Clermont County, said "50 percent of our children leave the county and that's awful. They have to totally leave what's familiar to them. Our children should be taken care of by our community."

McCartney agrees displaced children should stay in the county.

"We believe these are Clermont County's kids and we want to make sure our community is taking care of the kids," he said.

One Clermont County woman who cares for foster children is Denise Strimple of Tate Township. Strimple and her husband have been foster parents since 1988.

"It's worth the risk," Strimple said. "The thing that most people say, 'I don't know if I can give them back,' It really is worth the risk to ourselves to know you're making life better for a child who doesn't have a choice or voice most of the time."

The Strimples have opened their home primarily to children with disabilities or medical issues.

"We spend most of our time with these children helping them overcome that and doing different therapies and appointments at Children's and things to help maximize their potential while they're with us," she said. "It's very rewarding to see them not being able to do things they should be doing at what age level they are to coming back to a typical area of where they belong."

Strimple said she and her husband generally care for one child at a time over a six-month period to give the child the advantage of their sole attention and care.

"It's always a heartbreak to say goodbye," Strimple said, "but it's certainly worth the investment."

Besides the negative effects of removing the children from everything they know, sending children out of the county also makes it harder for families to reunite after the parents have resolved the issues that caused the county to remove the kids, McCartney said.

"It's more difficult to reunify because of the distance. It's also frankly just more costly. We incur travel expenses for our staff, and networks, they're businesses, so it costs us more to pay a network to provide care for a child than it does for Clermont County foster parents," McCartney said.

Though there is a need for more foster homes in general, Boller said, "Our real need is for families that can take care of older children, school-age children and sibling groups."

Some county families are reluctant to provide care to older children because they either may be hoping to adopt, in which case the family would prefer an infant, or because they're not certain of what types of concerns or behaviors those children may bring into the home, Boller said.

However, the county provides mentors and training for families who open their homes to older children, Boller said.

"They report to us they feel the rewards tenfold from those children."

Boller said she'd like to see an additional 60 homes open up in Clermont County; if there were that many, children wouldn't have to be sent out of the county.

"We're really looking for people to help give a child a brighter tomorrow and please look into your hearts and give us a call. We are here and we want them to be there for our children," she said.

McCartney agreed that the county needs people who will provide good homes for displaced children.

"Simple fact of the matter is, in a growing count like us, we have 350 kids in care, five years ago we had a little less than two hundred, the number of kids that we have to care for has grown as the county has grown."

If you're interested in becoming a foster parent, call 732-STOP (7173) or visit The county also is holding open houses in coming months at local libraries to provide information to people wanting to become foster parents. The next open house is at 7 p.m. March 20 at the Union Township Branch Library.

African American children overrepresented in Kentucky foster care

Foster care bias program shuffled
Honeycutt Spears, Valarie.

A former state employee said Cabinet officials are abandoning an initiative to educate those in the foster care system about racial bias.

Last year, after the Cabinet for Health and Family Services admitted that the number of blacks under the state's care were disproportionate to their number in the population, they asked Delanor Manson to lead their efforts.

Manson said that she was fired in January by Gov. Steve Beshear's administration. The Rev. Louis Coleman of Louisville, a civil rights activist, filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, saying that the Cabinet is discriminating against the state's most vulnerable black families.

But Cabinet spokeswoman Vikki Franklin said that the initiative to educate social workers, school officials and others about bias continues through community meetings and workshops and that the Cabinet continues to support the program with state funding Ð about $260,000 in fiscal 2008.

Workshops have not been scheduled beyond June 30 because state agencies don't know how much money they'll receive in the budget, she said.

The Cabinet found in a study last year that in 11 counties, black children are represented in foster care at more than 1.5 times their percentage of the population. Fayette County is one of the worst examples, with black children in foster care at 3.4 times their proportion of the population. Black children represent 13.5 percent of the population in Fayette County, while they constitute 45.7 percent of the children in foster care. A bill filed by State Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, that proposes to open a Cabinet office to deal with the disparity in treatment for children of color, was passed by the House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday.

Manson said the Cabinet is opposing the bill.

However, Franklin said Cabinet officials are continuing to review the legislation.

Manson was executive director of the Cabinet's office for quality management. No one has since been hired to take over the workshops she led that educate workers in the system about racial bias, she said. Manson said she has continued to conduct the workshops called Race, Community and the Child Welfare System in areas with the biggest problems.

"I am continuing to do presentations, coordinate workshops and meetings as a private citizen without any reimbursement for travel, expenses or salary because it is essential that we keep the communities engaged," Manson said. "I don't want the momentum to go away."

Franklin said Manson is continuing the work on her own and "not at the invitation of the Cabinet."

As the state takes measures to further fund its own workshops, Manson said black children and their families are not being treated fairly.

"Failure to continue the work sends a signal that disparate outcomes for children of color is OK," she said.

Kentucky counties with the highest percentage of black children in foster care:

Jefferson 592
Fayette 308
Christian 23
Graves 29
McCracken 46
Warren 82
Hardin 52
Boyle 17
Kenton 67
Daviess 32
Madison 15

Source: Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What about the PEW recommendations and advocating for the voice of the child?

Bill would alter foster care process
Aims to protect parental rights.
Honeycutt Spears, Valarie. Feb. 23, 2008.

FRANKFORT --In Jefferson County, attorneys volunteer to help indigent families at a crucial first hearing to determine whether a child must live in foster care or can stay with an appropriate family member.

Parents in the rest of the state aren't as lucky -- indigent parents go to court without a lawyer initially.

Jefferson Family Court Judge Patricia Walker Fitzgerald takes it on herself to make sure that all families are educated about complex and confusing court procedures. She tells them in clear terms that if their child has been removed by a social worker, the child could be headed for a state adoption. As a result, according to Fitzgerald, "more children are able to stay with their families."

Elsewhere in Kentucky, many parents don't realize that they can lose their child forever until it's too late.

State Rep. Darryl Owens' House Bill 151 would require that the entire state embrace the policies Jefferson County officials voluntarily carry out.

"What we have now is not a system, it's just luck," said Robin Cornette, a Lexington lawyer who often works as a court-appointed attorney. "If we are serious about holding social workers accountable for their work, about ensuring that parents' rights to their children are not unjustly terminated, then we have to create a real system, one which does not rely solely on the luck of finding free or underpaid lawyers."

House Bill 151 requires attorneys to be appointed before the first hearing in child protection cases, called the temporary removal hearing. It directs judges to tell families in writing and orally that they stand to lose their children permanently. The bill was drafted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adoption after 16 months of hearings.

John Hamlet, a court-appointed attorney in Jefferson County, said the bill "provides some protection for the most vulnerable families."

House Bill 151 would give court-appointed attorneys in child protection courts the first raises they've had since the 1980s. Now, court-appointed attorneys in child protection cases are paid a maximum of $500, and in some jurisdictions, only $250 -- no matter how long the case goes on, how complicated the case is, or how many hours are required. The bill would raise that amount to $1,000.

It would require that an attorney be appointed for indigent parents who want to appeal the termination of their parental rights.

State Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she will call the bill for a vote next week in the House Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. She will also call House Bill 421, promoted by Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, which would make child protection hearings open in selected courts across Kentucky in a four-year pilot program. Child protection courts in most states are open to some degree.

Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat who introduced House Bill 421 and is a co-sponsor of House Bill 151, thinks Senate leaders will realize the importance of the reform legislation.

After multiple hearings and investigations into allegations that children were being improperly removed from their families, Westrom said she believes people expect results.

"We've got to prove that we listened, so that no family or child will be abused by the system," she said.

But Stein's counterpart in the Senate, Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, isn't making any promises. Stivers, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has had only a brief conversation with Lambert's aides about the open court bill and hadn't read it or other legislation concerning child protection courts because the bills aren't yet moving in the House.

"It would be premature for me to comment on the chances for passage," Stivers said this week.

With the state's budget constraints, David Richart of the Louisville-based Institute on Children, Youth and Families thinks the likelihood that lawmakers will increase fees for court-appointed attorneys "is not great." But he said lawmakers could save the parts of the bill that give families an attorney earlier in the process, that supervise court-appointed attorneys and that educate families to the fact that the state could arrange an adoption for their children.

"Even if the fee increase is cut," Richart said, "there are still some substantial things we can do to improve child protection court procedures."

Meanwhile, Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for Lambert, says that he will soon be meeting with Stivers.

"We are continuing to educate legislators about the purpose of the bill and how it will be implemented," Hiatt said.