Some 7,000 Kentucky children live in “out-of-home settings,” according to statistics from Buckhorn Children and Family Services.

“Unfortunately, the number of children removed from homes where they have been neglected or abused continues to rise,” said Robin Gabbard, spokesperson for Buckhorn Services, a mission of the Presbyterian Church USA.

Buckhorn, which serves special needs children in the eastern half of the state, provides “treatment foster care” in four Central Kentucky counties from a “community-based services office” that it has maintained in Richmond for 10 years.

As the cost of caring for the growing number of children removed from unsafe homes has increased, state payments to non-profit organizations that sponsor “treatment foster homes” has not increased in six years, Gabbard said.

In addition to growing expenses such as fuel costs, the cost of meeting ever-more stringent state standards continues to rise, she said.

Two employees of Buckhorn, which has a training center and 10 affiliated foster homes in Madison County, spoke up at a “town hall” meeting that Gov. Ernie Fletcher had in Richmond on Jan. 16.

The governor is conducting a series public meetings across the state to get citizen input on what should be done with the $279 million budget surplus the state expects this year.

In recent months, Buckhorn and similar organizations of the Kentucky Children’s Alliance have had to close facilities because of funding problems, Regina Warren, Buckhorn’s chief operating officer told the governor.

Just $15 million, or 5 percent of the surplus, could keep independent care providers from cutting back on their services, Warren said.

Buckhorn is sending representatives to all of the governor’s town hall meetings to get its message out, Gabbard said.

“We’re also asking our supporters to contact the governor’s office as well as their state legislators with their concerns,” she said.

Comments may be sent to the governor via the

Web site: http://governor.ky.gov/your_money/.

Current state funding provides Buckhorn $187 per day for children in its residential programs, Gabbard said. “Our cost is $279 per day, a $92 difference.” Buckhorn must raise funds from private donors to bridge the funding gap or cut back on services, she said.

Parents in Buckhorn’s program “accept children who could not be helped by others,” Gabbard said. The problems of children in what the state calls “Foster Care Plus” homes often can be traced to the environments from which they have been removed, she said.

“We’re seeing more and more children with substance abuse issues,” Gabbard said. “Often they have followed a parent or parents in to drug abuse,” she said. Many of the children in Buckhorn homes have been physically or sexually abused. Other have medical or developmental problems.

Parents in Buckhorn’s foster care program are thoroughly screened and trained, said Randy Murrell, recruitment and certification specialist in Buckhorn’s Richmond office.

“We offer training in crisis management, first aid, CPR and to deal with the specialized needs that foster children may have,” Murrell said.

State Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond chairman of the House of Representative’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said that per diem funding for “regular foster care” homes will increase “significantly” July 1 when the state’s fiscal year begins. “I am very interested in our foster care programs,” Moberly said. The governor had not included increased foster care funding in his budget proposal last year, he said.

“We won’t be able to accomplish it” in the short legislative session that begins in February, but the legislature “will examine the additional needs of Foster Care Plus providers such as Buckhorn in the next budget,” Moberly said.

“Buckhorn’s programs provide treatment in addition to regular foster care,” he said. “The legislature will likely require these agencies to show that their treatment programs are achieving results.”

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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