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Community Based Services head tells committee Ky. is a ‘model on how to transform child welfare’

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A high number of children in the foster care system have caused social workers to be overburdened, the commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services told a panel Monday.

Eric Clark testified before the Health, Welfare and Family Services committee, saying the issue of a large number of children entering the foster care system is a national trend, and it leads to social workers having tougher jobs.

Kentucky is trying to transform the child welfare system in the wake of adoption and foster care reform passed by the General Assembly.

Eric Clark, commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, testified that adoption and foster care reforms passed in the 2018 General Assembly are making a difference. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

“That issue is not unique to the commonwealth of Kentucky, this is a national trend,” Clark said. “There are over 400,000 kids in foster care throughout the United States.”

Clark says the burden falls on social workers who sometimes have a difficult time dealing with it.

“When you have a high number of kids in the foster care system, that leads to kids lingering in care too long, it leads to an overwhelmed workforce, which leads to a retention issue, a morale problem,” he said.

Clark testified adoption and foster care reforms passed by the General
Assembly in 2018 is making a difference in making improvement in the system.

“We held our first child welfare summit in January, and over 800 people showed up,” he said. “That is so encouraging for us, that there are that number of people that would come alongside on one day to hear about what we are doing and figure out a way to support us in our work.”

Clark said Kentucky is leading the nation and is “a model on how to transform a child welfare system.”

He says they have three transformational goals in improving the system:

• Safely reduce the number of children in out of home care.

• Improve timeliness to appropriate permanency.

• Reduce caseloads of social workers.

When it comes to reducing how many children are in foster care, Clark says their graphs that chart the numbers need to come down slowly. “If you see sharp decreases in the number of kids in care, that tells us the system is not stable, and just as fast as it can decease, it can spike right back up.”

According to CHFS figures, the number of children in out of home care in Kentucky was less than 8,000 in September 2015. That number rose until it peaked at 9,916 last November. As of September 2019, it has dropped to 9,721.

He noted that decrease has another positive outcome. “We have fewer kids placed in residential facilities out of state than we’ve had in many years.” That number currently stands at 20.

One area that Clark says continues to lag behind improvements in other areas is the time it takes to complete the adoption process.

“On average it takes about 36 months to be adopted. That’s three years of child’s life to be in a foster care setting before they reach that permanent home that they deserve. But we’re making improvements.”

Even with obstacles still to climb over, it’s getting better, Clark said.

“Despite the high number of kids in care, overwhelmed caseworkers, full family court dockets, we are still able to process a record number of kids being adopted,” he said. “So we’re showing some good accomplishments on where we’re going as a system.”

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