Politics & Government

Fayette social workers investigated; findings under review

State child protection officials investigated social workers in Fayette County last year after an ombudsman researching citizen complaints found 14 violations of policy within a six-month period in 2010 that weren't fixed promptly.

The investigation is complete, but full results haven't been released because they are under internal review by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said Wednesday.

A 2007 legislative mandate requires the cabinet to launch an investigation and report its findings to a legislative panel if any county has 10 or more policy violations within six months that aren't resolved in a timely manner. Investigations also were conducted in Jefferson and Grayson counties last year.

In an additional 21 complaints about Fayette County social workers, the ombudsman found that cabinet policies were violated, but the problems were resolved promptly, according to a separate cabinet report obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act.

Included in the Fayette County complaints, which covered the first six months of 2010, were eight incidents of "lack of face-to-face contact" with families and 12 incidents of overdue investigations. None of the policy violations had to be referred to state or federal prosecutors or the cabinet's inspector general, the report said.

Under the 2007 mandate, the cabinet must track all complaints against social workers and report findings of policy violations to the General Assembly twice a year. No county triggered an investigation in 2009 under the mandate.

In the first half of 2010, the cabinet's ombudsman found 377 policy violations statewide, 95 of which weren't corrected in a timely manner.

State Rep. Tom Burch, co-chair of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare, said Tuesday that his committee had not received a report on citizen complaints against social workers since last August.

"It's overdue," he said. "I want more transparency in the whole cabinet."

Burch said he will put the issue on the agenda for the committee's August meeting.

Midkiff said Wednesday that the 2010 year-end report, which includes policy violations found statewide and results of the Fayette County investigation, was under internal review and would be available soon.

Providing information about policy violations by social workers to lawmakers is "absolutely crucial" because "it sends a signal that something is awry," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

In Jefferson County, 15 policy violations found as a result of complaints from January to June 2010 weren't resolved by a deadline set by the cabinet. There were an additional 20 policy violations in which the problems were resolved promptly, the cabinet report said.

In Grayson County, there were 12 policy violations that weren't resolved promptly. There were 18 other cases that also revealed policy violations, but they were brought into compliance.

Results from the investigations in Jefferson and Grayson counties, which were made public last year, showed that one of the most common issues in those counties was that workers had a lack of face-to-face contact with families, the report said.

Once an investigation is complete, cabinet officials implement a corrective action plan to deal with each problem.

In Grayson County, two new supervisors were hired; Jefferson County implemented a new system to track home visits by social workers.

Fayette County, too, has made improvements, Midkiff said, although details have not been made public.

"Their plans of action appear to have been successful, as each county has reduced their number of ... unresolved complaints" in recent months, Midkiff said.