Adoptions & The Cabinet for Health & Family Services

In my former life I worked for over a decade in child protective services and dealt with foster care and adoption issues on a daily basis.  I am encouraged by the attention being directed at adoption and foster care recently.  See articles in Lawreader and by Diana Skaggs.  I hope the attention results in some effective changes and not just changing for the sake of good headlines. 

During the years that I worked with the Cabinet (it was called various things during my tenure but the most recent was the Cabinet for Families and Children) changes occurred so often the workers could not keep up with them all.  In fact, for a time I supervised a child protection team and I would learn about policy changes only from new workers returning from training; there was no organized dissemination of new information.  I know first hand how much is piled on to social services workers at the Cabinet, many of whom are fresh from school.  Even as a veteran of the system and working 50 and 60 hours a week regularly, I could not do everything that was required of me – no one could!

Years ago, there was a great deal of press about the Cabinet computerizing its records and how that would save so much time that it would equal 300 workers.  What a farce!  It increased our workload.  Of course politicos are fond of saying that throwing money at a problem won’t solve it and that we just need to work smarter and not harder.  Those may grab votes but they don’t protect children.  The system needs proper funding and enough workers to make the idealistic laws a reality. 

It takes a great deal of time and effort to keep children from languishing in foster care.  You must have workers with enough time to be thorough in their investigations.  If they cannot be thorough due to massive caseloads, then the safest thing in that workers mind is to remove the child in marginal cases.  Once a child is removed, the ongoing worker for that family needs time to spend linking the family up with resources, spend time encouraging and pushing them to follow through, and spend time evaluating progress.  When I was a worker, tremendous numbers of hours were spent transporting children to and from visits and supervising those visits.  These are needed services certainly but they did not factor the tasks into our caseloads. 

Next, when it becomes improbable to successfully return children home, it takes tremendous amounts of time to prepare for a termination of parental rights.  Also, tremendous time is required to recruit, evaluate, and train appropriate adoptive parents.  Most of the children up for adoption through the Cabinet are difficult children to place for a variety of reasons including:  advanced age, large sibling groups, behavioral problems and attachment disorders, etc.  Even after adoptive homes are found, they need a great deal of support to form a new family around the children to prevent disruption of the placement. 

So, I applaud the attention being given but I sure hope legislators and Kentucky taxpayers are willing to put their money behind the talk.  For every new law there must be a commensurate increase in funding to pay for the workers and other resources that it will take to make that law successful. 

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