Reports reveal child abuse and foster care needs

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Lawmakers on the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee asked experts what more could be done to help children in abusive situations during the committee’s meeting yesterday.

Jill Seyfred, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, and Kelly Crane, the state policy specialist for Prevent Child Abuse America, presented the committee updated statistics on child abuse across the Commonwealth and country.

Kentucky’s data, which was compiled by the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), showed 50,660 reports of child abuse met the criteria for investigation last year. The number of children impacted by those investigations was 76,106.

Seyfred said Kentucky’s number remains high, in part, because of mandatory reporting laws and prevention education put in place over the last several years to combat child abuse. She said areas Kentucky could improve on to reduce child abuse included more money for education, families in need of services and social workers.

According to the data, neglect has been the top form of child maltreatment in Kentucky for the last several years. The data also showed drug abuse in the home and mental health issues were major factors in child abuse cases.

“We know that the No. 1 referral source for abuse and neglect cases comes from teachers,” Seyfred said. “Anytime we can work with teachers and help them understand the issues, understand how to report, help them be more comfortable in that role, I think will be a benefit.”

During a DCBS presentation on foster care within the state, several committee members expressed concern over significantly lower intake numbers for March, April and May of this year compared to last year. The impact of COVID-19 closing down schools across Kentucky in March is to blame for the lower intake numbers for those months, according to DCBS data provided to the committee.

“Every superintendent and every school board chair and every counselor in every school system in the state should all be aware of this,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said. “And they should all be put on notice that this is an issue that needs to be given particular attention as they think about reopening and consider how best to do it. Not just educate students, but make sure they have access to resources to address their health.”

Another concern for the committee was social worker caseloads and how long it can take adoptions to move through the court system.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, asked particularly about the situation in Jefferson County.

Christa Bell, the director for the Division of Protection and Permanency within DCBS, said social worker turnover in Jefferson County had been a struggle.

DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub said there’s been a focus on reducing unmanageable caseloads.

Now, instead of 80 cases per social worker in Jefferson County, it’s down to an average of 37 cases.

“That’s still too high, but that’s almost a 45 percent reduction in the caseload,” Miranda-Straub said.

As for adoptions, committee co-chair Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked why it can take up to three years for adoptions to move through the court system.

Bell said the paperwork and documentation process required of families and the cost of adoptions cause delays.

“We put in place some strategies to try to improve that,” Bell said. “We actually reduced some of the requirements if the child had been in the same placement from the initial get-go. We removed some of those paperwork requirements.”

So far this year, 1,293 adoptions have been finalized compared to 1,257 in all of 2019, according to DCBS data provided to the committee.

“We just want to get those social workers in your hands, so we get that caseload down and get our judges maybe a little bit more on board to handle these cases with a little more speed if possible,” said Buford.

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