Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan, I think most of us would say “With family!” when reflecting on where we wanted to be during special holiday moments. The sentiment is no different for children in Kentucky’s child welfare system.
Earlier this month we released a new issue brief, Every Kentucky Kid Needs a Family, focused on these children. We highlight the importance of keeping families together whenever possible and placing children who cannot stay with their parents in family settings, due to all the benefits family-type placements have on children’s physical, emotional, psychological, and social development.
The continuum of care graphic below displays the ideal distribution of placements for children who have experienced abuse or neglect in their home, with most children remaining with parents or living with a relative. But how does Kentucky measure up against this ideal?
Birth Families Receiving In-home Services
We know that some children can stay safely in their home if their family receives the right mix of services and supports. Family preservation programs are one tool to help keep families together by teaching families life skills, promoting and modeling positive parenting, and connecting families with needed community resources. In state fiscal year 2015, families of more than 4,200 children were able to stay together or reunify safely due to receiving family preservation programs. During that same time frame, child protective services identified nearly 13,000 cases where it was determined children had been abused or neglected.
When children cannot remain safely at home, we can greatly relieve the trauma of out-of-home care by placing children with relatives, known as kinship care. Approximately 1,200 Kentucky children are in kinship foster care (meaning their relative caregiver has been licensed as a foster care provider). More than 10,000 additional children are in Kentucky’s Kinship Care Program, which places kids who have experienced abuse or neglect with relatives outside of the foster care system.
Non-relative Foster Families
If relatives are not available to take in a child, a foster family is the next best alternative to provide stable, nurturing parental figures. In 2014, approximately 10,000 Kentucky children were in foster care with an unrelated caregiver – this equates to 75 percent of all Kentucky children in the foster care system.
Residential Treatment Facilities
A small percentage of children who have been abused or neglected need treatment in a residential facility (such as a group home or institution) in order to address their complex mental or behavioral health needs. However, residential treatment facilities must only be used as an intervention as long as clinically necessary and should prepare children to transition or return to a family setting as soon as possible. In 2014, approximately 2,200 Kentucky children were placed in residential facilities. Kentucky has a higher rate of using residential treatment facilities for children in the foster care system than the nation as a whole (18 percent compared to 14 percent).
Do any of these numbers surprise you? What ideas do you have for ensuring every child has the opportunity to grow up with trusted, nurturing adults in a family setting?