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As part of The Register's Ask It Madison County series, one Richmond resident wants to know what happens when a child is removed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), Department for Community Based Services (DCBS).

The question read: Why are so many families being torn apart with little or no reasoning behind it?

It is important to remember when reading that the situation surrounding a child's removal from the home can be based on a number of factors, but the important thing to note is that each situation is unique, as is the process moving forward.

The process

CHFS and DCBS is the state child welfare agency that is responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse, neglect and dependency per Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 600.020 and 922 Kentucky Administrative Regulation (KAR) 1:330 which guides the agency's standards of practice, according to CHFS Executive Staff Advisor Anya Weber, formerly with the Office of Public of Affairs.

Weber said if a report meets the accepted criteria, an investigator will make face-to-face contact with the alleged child victim within a certain timeframe outlined by the KAR. Interviews with family members also are conducted.

If a risk assessment deems there is a threat to the child which cannot be rectified through supportive services or in-home intervention, the social service worker files a petition for immediate removal from the home in order to keep the child safe.

"A child may be placed with an appropriate relative or fictive kin caregiver, or in a foster home setting," Weber said in an email to the Register.

With every situation and child being unique, Weber said the cabinet is required by the KRS to seek the least restrictive placement for the child, which starts first with placing them in relative/fictive kin care. Relative refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends, also referred to as fictive kin care. Fictive kin care was not an placement option between 2013 and 2017.

When determining if a relative placement would be a safe and appropriate option for the child, the social worker completes a safety check and a full review of the home depending on the service array selected by the relative/fictive kin, according to Weber.

"The full review includes the relative's/fictive kin's ability to provide for the physical, emotional, developmental, educational and mental health needs of the child being placed," Weber said. "Some children who require placement outside of their home have significant mental, emotional, or physical health needs and a higher level of care may be necessary to meet their needs."

But when relative/fictive kin care isn't an option, the cabinet moves to put the child in foster care, residential or group home care or treatment.

Foster care is a temporary home for a child with a caring family. The goal is to safely reunite these children with their birth families.

There are several requirements for adults who want to become foster or adoptive parents. Foster parents must complete training requirements, which include an informational meeting, 15 hours of preparation training and web based trainings.

The case then transitions from an investigative role to assisting the caregiver with parenting the child safely. A case plan is completed outlining the services that match any needs identified in the risk assessment. According to Weber, case planning includes tasks and objectives that relate to the parent's behaviors that led to safety threats in the home.

"Objectives and tasks are outlined during the case planning conference with the parents and other interested parties that will increase protective capacity and reduce safety threats," Weber said. "The family has the option to invite supportive individuals to their case planning conferences, and other invitees include the relative/fictive kin/foster parent, Guardian Ad Litem, parents' attorneys, service providers, etc."

Not every case is court active. Weber said if a child is placed outside of the parents' home, court action is required because only a court can order the removal of a child from the home, but a case that has an in-home plan would not have to be court active.

If the case is court active, the family's case plan also becomes part of the court orders in the case. Monthly home visits to the family and child are made by the social worker to continually assess the child's safety, documenting progress of the case plan objectives and making note of any high risk behaviors.

Reunification

"Federal and state law mandate that children who have been removed from their homes to have permanency established within reasonable time frames," Weber said. "Permanence means a relationship between a child and an adult which is intended to last a lifetime, providing commitment and continuity in the child's relationships and a sense of belonging."

While the goal is to reunite children with their birth parents, there are several instances in which reunification doesn't occur. Weber said if a parent hasn't made progress on their case plans, the cabinet is obligated to pursue permanency. When that happens, social workers will request a permanency goal change through the court.

Permanency can be achieved through reunification with parent/s, permanent custody to a relative/fictive kin, guardianship to a relative/fictive kin, or adoption. There are other permanency arrangements that can be made in rare situations.

The numbers

In April, there were about 267 children in foster care in Madison County, 65 with relative/fictive kin caregivers. At the state level though, the number is almost overwhelming.

According to Weber, almost 10,000 children are in the state's foster care system, and only 1,172 are in relative/fictive kin care. From 2013 to 2017, the number of children in foster care statewide continued to rise, from 7,159 in 2013 to 9,739 in 2019.

In Madison County, those numbers fluctuated, with a slight increase the first few years, from 180 children in 2013 to 219 in 2015. In 2016, the number dropped by 15, then dropped again by another 63 in 2017.

However, Weber noted there are some children placed with relatives/fictive kin where the kin has obtained custody of the child and they may not be included in these numbers. Fictive kin care also didn't become a placement option until 2017.

The average length of time, as of March 2019, for children from Madison County that have been in foster care is 14.41 months, and statewide the average is 21.61 months. But for children in Madison County who were in relative/fictive kin care for that same time period, their average stay was less than half of that of those in foster care at an average of 5.72 months. The same was true statewide at an average stay of 8.66 months.

With a steady increase in children statewide in foster care over the course of five years, it is a no-brainer when one says it takes a village to raise a child. But there is a lack foster care parents and social workers to create the village in first place.

"There are 1,481 workers that fulfill a variety of duties within the cabinet -- from intake, investigation, ongoing service delivery, foster care and adoption," Weber said.

However, Weber said in 2018, the turnover rate for social workers was just more than 25%. Many factors play a role in social worker retention, she noted, such as a lack of competitive pay and benefits and using the position as a learning and training stepping stone to add to their resumes. She also said former staff typically leave the agency with an offer of employment from a different agency at a higher pay rate with less stress.

Others leave due to the stress and strain of the job.

"Staff are basically on call 24/7, to deal with child fatalities, tragically broken hearts and homes on a daily basis," Weber said. "This, coupled with caseloads that are much too high, create an over-stressed workforce. Lastly, most front line workers suffer from secondary trauma and may leave the job to heal from the trauma."

Becoming a foster parent

Weber said if a person is interested in becoming a foster parent, they can either call a local office to obtain more information or they can make an inquiry online at the KY Faces website and someone from their county/region will call back.

If the family would like to move forward with the process of becoming a foster parent, they are referred to the informational meeting.

"This is a meeting in their area that will provide information about the process and requirements. If they decide they would like to pursue approval, then they will begin their pre-service training, which is a combination of face to face hours and online components," Weber said.

In addition, families will have to complete a background check, provide financial and personal references, physical and mental health documentation, and other required paperwork. The agency will complete a home study after several home visits with the family as well, Weber noted.

"Once all paperwork, background checks, and the home study is complete, then the family may be approved," Weber said.

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit https://prdweb.chfs.ky.gov/kyfaces.

How to Ask It

To submit something you want investigated by The Register, email editor@richmondregister.com and send your questions with your name, city, zip code, email and phone number. Questions can also be mailed in: Richmond Register c/o Ask It Madison County, PO Box 99, Richmond, KY, 40475.

The Register will make attempts to answer or find answers to all questions. If similar questions are asked, readers may be asked to vote on which topic they want investigated.

Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.

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