Community

You can be the checks and balance for foster children

I volunteer quarterly with the Church Under the Bridge to feed the hungry.

I've donated my time to my children's schools and to organizations that help single mothers like Step by Step and Mother to Mother.

But those efforts allow me to be rather casual in my interaction with folks in need. I can talk, laugh and feed and then go home basking in my self righteousness.

That's why an e-mail I received recently intrigued me.

The note from the Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort was asking journalists to publicize the need for people to join the Citizen Foster Care Review Board for Fayette County. When I called, I learned there is an urgent need for volunteers in 18 other jurisdictions, as well.

That board was established by the General Assembly to ensure that children who are wards of the state receive the best of care and decrease the time spent in foster care.

Volunteers who are appointed to the review boards, which are located in jurisdictions throughout Kentucky, don't have to manufacture self importance.

Once a month, Lori Shouse leaves her job as administrative support at the AOC, to join four or five other volunteers who review the case files of children who have been removed from their homes because of an unhealthy environment.

Shouse said each volunteer receives several case files containing information about the child's placement, education, health and family situation. They look over the files carefully and then complete a "findings and recommendations" form which is sent to either a chief district judge or a family court judge.

"We're like checks and balances for the social worker," Shouse said. "The case workers are so overwhelmed and their case loads are so large" something might be missed.

Sometimes all the information is right there and ready to evaluate and sometimes it is not, she said. If anything is missing, the case worker is informed as well as the judge.

The reviews are required every six months for each child.

"I do it because it does make a difference, it does help and the judge does see it," Shouse said. "I've seen the judge make a decision based on information from the volunteers. I see the results. I know it is making a difference."

If you have time to help safeguard the well being of a child in foster care, then the AOC wants you.

Eboni Blackford of AOC said review boards meet monthly or every two months or quarterly depending on the number of cases in a jurisdiction to be monitored. Each jurisdiction is required to have three volunteers. You do not have to live in the jurisdiction being reviewed.

The cases are pulled by someone other than the caseworker so independent eyes can catch issues that have been overlooked.

"The average volunteer is 51 and female," Blackford said. "The average length of service is 5.13 years. They know what good it does."

Each volunteer undergoes six hours of training before being chosen for a board. They will have to consent to a criminal background check and a central registry check which indicates any incidents of child abuse or neglect.

So if you think you can pass the checks and if you have the time and compassion to help children in foster care, call Shouse or Blackford at 1-800-928-2350.

They will connect you to a field coordinator in your area who will take it from there.

"It is surprising what social workers can miss or overlook that we catch and then can fix it," Shouse said.

Helping children and helping social workers do their jobs better. What more can you ask for as a volunteer?

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