Education

Fayette County has higher rate of children living in foster care than the state

Fayette County had a higher rate of children living in foster care from 2012 to 2014 than the state rate, according to child well-being rankings released recently by Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Chief Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton said she thinks that the numbers could be the result of the community’s heroin problem and a lack of manpower with state social workers.

“It’s a combination of really sad factors,” Masterton said.

“We’re facing a heroin epidemic,” she said. Also, said the judge, “Families have a succession of cabinet workers. It’s frustrating for the families and it’s frustrating for the court system. It’s frustrating for everybody.”

“The bottom line is we don’t have enough social workers who are trained, who are experienced to handle the case load that we have.”

The report says a rate of 52.3 per 1,000 children under the age of 18 are in out-of-home care in Fayette County compared with the state rate of 37.2 per 1,000 children under the age of 18 who lived in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect.

Out-of-home care includes placements in licensed foster homes with relatives or unrelated caregivers, or institutional placements such as group homes or residential treatment facilities. Data is collected to reflect the county of the case manager’s office, which usually corresponds with the county in which a family is being served.

Masterton said efforts are under way to reduce the number of children in out-of-home care in Fayette County.

We’re facing a heroin epidemic. Families have a succession of cabinet workers. It’s frustrating for the families and it’s frustrating for the court system. It’s frustrating for everybody.

Chief Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton

Fayette has an early assessment program in which parents get intensive case management for issues such as addiction, poverty and domestic violence.

There is a pilot program in Masterton’s division operated through the Targeted Assessment Program at the University of Kentucky. The program is a joint effort with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. When a child is placed in foster care, a social worker in the UK program is at the initial hearing and meets with the parent almost immediately to conduct a psychosocial evaluation. They then meet with the parent within the next day to get them treatment and other services more quickly.

In another effort, if appropriate relatives can’t be found for a child to live with, officials look for someone who has an emotional connection to the child that is similar to a relative, such as a neighbor.

Also, Masterton said Fayette County officials hope to get a program that is working in Jefferson County. In the Jefferson County program, Masterton said, drug-addicted parents get intense support from mentors, social workers, drug addiction counselors and other professionals so they can maintain custody. Those parents have to show they are making progress with their recovery and solving their other problems.

Anya Weber, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in response that it is not uncommon to expect higher than statewide average out-of-home care numbers in more urban and populated areas, like Fayette County. Substance abuse is a leading risk factor in child abuse and neglect cases and the number of children in court-ordered Cabinet custody, she said.

In Fayette County’s Department for Community Based Services office, “We have a high staff turnover rate,” Weber said. “We currently have 14 open positions and are working to fill them to reach the county’s full position complement.”

“Staff turnover is higher in in our larger counties, where the department is in more competition with non-state government agencies hiring for social work jobs,” she said.

Fayette County also has a higher rate of young people incarcerated in the juvenile justice system than the state rate, the report said.

From 2012-14, a rate of 45.3 per 1,000 children between the ages 10-17 were booked into a juvenile detention facility compared with a rate of 37.5 per 1,000 children in that age range statewide.

The local numbers involve juvenile cases that originated in Fayette County.

From 2012-14, a rate of 45.3 per 1,000 children between the ages 10-17 were booked into a juvenile detention facility compared with a rate of 37.5 per 1,000 children in that age range statewide.

The 2015 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book released Nov. 15 ranks counties on overall child well-being based on 16 different indicators organized into four domains: Economic Security, Family and Community, Education, and Health.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, a Louisville-based advocacy group, said Fayette County’s overall performance in economic well-being, health and education is encouraging.

But Brooks said opportunities to “hold families together and, in those cases where that is simply impossible, to support kin raising those kids are not lofty ideas — they are imperatives.”

Another troubling number for Fayette County involves incarcerated youth, Brooks said. He said Kentucky Youth Advocates calls for broad diversion programs and inter-agency collaboration to help children avoid incarceration.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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