The Cabinet for Health and Family Services building in Frankfort. (Kentucky Today file photo)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A Child Welfare Transformation report issued Wednesday by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services shows progress in outcomes for children and a planned path toward greater preventive and community-based care for families.

Eric Clark, commissioner of the Cabinet’s Department for Community Based Services, says the effort began in 2018 in conjunction with several recent legislative gains for the department that provided additional state budget appropriations and improved options and resources for families and children.

Those gains include improvements such as the fictive kin placement option, the codified Foster Youth Bill of Rights, and the improved relative services array.

Clark says other positive factors were new opportunities for more flexible federal funding, particularly through the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, and the strong commitment of Gov. Matt Bevin and First Lady Glenna Bevin to making Kentucky the best child welfare system in the nation.

“There is no denying that Kentucky is experiencing an unprecedented opportunity to transform its child welfare system,” Clark said. “This report was created upon DCBS’ own initiative to document the tremendous work and accomplishments that have been made during the last year and share our vision going forward.”

Some of the positive outcomes include:

--An increase of 671 foster homes across the state from April 2018 to April 2019

--The number of youth exiting from foster care to reunification has risen from 2,193 in 2014 to 2,339 in 2018

--The number of youth exiting from foster care to adoption has risen from 846 of all exits in 2014 to 1,045 in 2018

--The number of youth exiting out of home care without achieving permanency has decreased from 650 in 2014 to 641 in 2018

Clark notes, while DCBS has seen improvements in figures like these, more work is needed to improve timeliness for permanency to ensure better outcomes for youth.

DCBS has identified three goals for its child welfare transformation:

--Safely reduce the number of children entering out of home care

--Improve timeliness to appropriate permanency

--Reduce staff caseloads

Clark said this is only the beginning of DCBS’ collective partnership with all stakeholders, and the success of the child welfare system belongs to everyone.

“We are committed to being a data-informed, outcome-driven agency that will be more responsive to the serving the needs within our communities and families,” Clark said. “I cannot thank all of the incredible DCBS employees, foster youth, advocates, community partners, and the many others enough for their time and inputs into helping us seize this special moment and initiate an ongoing radical transformation effort.”

Working with the central CWT Steering Committee and Stakeholder Advisory Council are nine workgroups, each of which have met over the past 14 months to concentrate on the core strategies of Culture of Safety, Aligned Service Array, Shared Focus on Outcomes and Collaborative Practice Approach.

Clark said that as the Child Welfare Transformation moves forward, each workgroup will have a renewed focus on data analysis and performance measurement.

Legislation enacted by the General Assembly the past several years has been key in addressing the child welfare issue, as well as adoption and foster care.

In 2016, Senate Bill 174 was enacted, to satisfy federal child welfare requirements resulting from the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014. After passage of House Resolution 282, the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee conducted an 18-month study of the state’s child welfare system issuing nine recommendations that were officially adopted June 2018.

The following year, House Bill 180 allowed DCBS to place a child with fictive kin, those who are not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child, but who have an emotionally significant relationship with the child. Prior to the enactment of HB 192, Kentucky foster youth were often unable to obtain a permit or an operator’s license due to the requirement for a parent or legal guardian to sign, thereby permitting the youth to obtain the permit/license and authorizing responsibility for the youth. A

The priority piece of legislation from the Kentucky House of Representatives during 2018 was an omnibus child welfare bill, HB 1. It took a major step towards strengthen permanency for children, and it included statutory updates from DCBS facilitating the state’s ability to innovate programming and adapt to changing context.

During this year’s General Assembly, HB 2 requires CHFS/DCBS to develop and share with relative or fictive kin caregivers custodial, permanency, and service options including monetary supports. HB 151 is considered the “Bill of Rights for Foster Children,” spelling out 16 rights for foster children. HB 446 also deals with the issue of giving foster parents the right to stand in court.

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