Kentucky social workers say system is in crisis, placing children in danger

Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Adria Johnson.
Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Adria Johnson.

On a Facebook page called “Kentucky Kids Matter,” state child protection workers say Kentucky’s system is in crisis and children are in danger.

“We have a crisis going on that should be concerning to all people as our children are in serious danger due to the current conditions of child protective services,” said Jeff Culver, a Jefferson County child protection supervisor for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare is scheduled to hear testimony from Culver and other state social workers at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Frankfort.

Culver, who created the Facebook page, began his career in Jefferson County, then worked in Fayette County from 2003 to 2014 before returning to Jefferson County.

Culver said the crisis has been developing for the last seven or eight years due to several factors.

“It’s a crisis everywhere, statewide,” Culver told the Herald-Leader.

Culver said that “the heroin epidemic as well as the severity of mental health issues in our communities have caused more investigations and more kids to come in the state’s care than ever before.” He said increased demands on social workers and lack of competitive salaries is causing veteran workers to leave.

As a result, he said, children who are not in state care are at major risk because the state doesn’t have experienced staff needed to adequately assess situations and make sure children are safe.

Rachel Blanford, who worked in counties that included Fayette and Bullitt, said she left the agency last year because of inadequate pay for herself and the workers she supervised and policies that she did not think were always in the best interest of children.

Adria Johnson, the Department for Community Based Services commissioner who oversees child protection workers, said in a statement that she agrees “that our work in child protective services can be overwhelming at times” and that she appreciates the patience and sacrifice of the staff.

Johnson said department officials have made several improvements: salary increases, using veteran staff where needed, better utilizing technology, and strengthening relationships with partners such as Spalding University in Louisville.

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