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Kentucky Youth Advocates, Casey Family Programs discuss COVID-19 impact on child welfare community


Kentucky Youth Advocates, with the support of Casey Family Programs, hosted a forum on Aug. 4 to discuss challenges youth and families connected to the child welfare system are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with solutions to move forward as the commonwealth navigates recovery efforts.

While the pandemic is affecting many Kentuckians in different ways, a look into the impact on the most vulnerable children and families creates the opportunity to advocate for ongoing support and improvement in a system meant to keep children safe.

“The pandemic has created complex issues for families across the commonwealth, from basic needs like housing and safety to at-home schooling to employment, and those issues can and have been even more exacerbated for youth and families connected to the child welfare system,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Complex issues demand complex solutions, which is why we’ve gathered insight from impacted stakeholders and employed a trilateral approach to solutions that engages the Beshear administration, the Kentucky Courts, and the Kentucky General Assembly.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates and Casey Family Programs set out to get a better understanding of how the public health crisis was impacting young people who are foster or kinship alumni, biological parents, kinship caregivers, foster parents, and service providers that interact with the child welfare system through a series of interviews, focus groups, and online surveys.

While each group experienced their own unique challenges, the following themes were identified in the new report, COVID-19 Impacts on the Kentucky Child Welfare Community: A Public Health Crisis Meets a Vulnerable System:

• Difficulty with Non-Traditional Instruction, such as inadequate technology supports and access to the internet.

• Mental and behavioral health challenges, such as inadequate access to services and lack of respite care.

• Barriers to basic needs, such as challenges with placement stability for older youth in foster care.

• Navigating complex systems, such as inconsistent guidance on visitation and case delays due to limited court hearings.

These findings, along with examples of what worked well and potential solutions moving forward, were presented to a virtual audience of over 200 attendees. The presentation was accompanied by remarks from Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman; Eric Friedlander, Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Honorable Debra Hembree Lambert, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice; and, Marta Miranda-Straub, Commissioner for the Department for Community Based Services.

Additionally, there were panel discussions featuring state Senator Whitney Westerfield; state Representative Joni Jenkins; Tyler Hunter, Voices of the Commonwealth; Carmel Cline, Kentucky START program; Norma Hatfield, Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky and CASA of the Heartland; and, Michelle Sanborn, Children’s Alliance.

“As a foster care alumni, I can personally identify with many of the challenges youth and families highlighted in this report,” said Hunter, foster care alumni and member of the Voices of the Commonwealth. “While we’re all facing incredible challenges, it’s encouraging to have so many advocates and state leaders come together to discuss solutions to not only address these issues but to build a stronger system for all.”

Access the full report, COVID-19 Impacts on the Kentucky Child Welfare Community: A Public Health Crisis Meets a Vulnerable System, view the presentation of the findings, and watch a recording of the forum at kyyouth.org.

From Kentucky Youth Advocates

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