The number of Kentucky children taken from their families and placed in foster homes or residential facilities increased in more than half of Kentucky's counties in the last five years — and by 100 percent or more in 14 counties, according to a report from a Kentucky child advocacy group released Monday
Twenty-nine counties experienced an increase of more than 50 percent during this time, said the report from the Louisville-based Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Bart Baldwin, president of Children's Alliance, a non-profit association of children's and family service agencies throughout Kentucky, pointed to an increase in methamphetamine abuse and financial stress because of the economy as reasons that more children were being placed in residential facilities and foster care.
Child advocates said Monday that while more children were being taken from their families and placed in out-of-home care, funds are being cut for family preservation programs. They are programs in each county that teach parenting and family-life skills, and connect families with mental health and other agencies.
In Eastern Kentucky, Magoffin County had one of the biggest increases from 2003 to 2008 at 314 percent.
In Central Kentucky, the numbers increased in Garrard County by 200 percent and Woodford County by 60 percent.
The number of children removed in Fayette and Jefferson counties also increased, at 14 percent and 11 percent respectively.
"Kentucky's leaders have decided to cut funding to family preservation programs even when the number of children entering an out-of-home placement has increased," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.
"If family preservation programs were expanded, where appropriate, the state would save money both immediately and in the long run."
Beginning July 1, 2008, the state eliminated contracts for family preservation programs totaling $625,000, Cabinet for Health and Family Services officials said Monday.
Baldwin said two programs that were cut kept 100 children out of foster care and residential facilities.
In 2007, the average cost to provide family preservation services to one family was $4,564 compared to $21,282 for one child to be placed in out-of-home care for nine months. In that same year, family preservation programs helped Kentucky avoid spending at least $17.5 million on out-of-home care, Brooks said.
While in some cases it is unsafe for children to remain in their homes, many families can benefit from prevention and treatment efforts, the report said.
The report proposes that three actions be taken to decrease the number of children placed in out-of home care:
■ Expand access to family preservation services to all families who are appropriate candidates.
■ Increase the duration of family preservation services for families that are still struggling when the case is closed.
■ Avoid budget cuts to the successful and cost-effective programs.
"Many times, help and treatment for the family can avoid the trauma of removal for the child and family," said Baldwin. "Kentucky policy-makers must work to make this a top priority for the upcoming state budget."
Kentucky Youth Advocate officials said that family preservation programs can help children with school problems, mental health problems, homelessness and the likelihood of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system.
"It is a rare opportunity when what is best for Kentucky's children and families is also what is best for the state budget's bottom line," Brooks said.
"This is one of those rare opportunities."
Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3409.