laughter with respectRelative caregivers, advocates, and kinship service providers gathered in Lexington on March 19th for the 13th Annual Grandparents as Parents Conference. Attendees participated in workshops on a variety of topics related to the unique challenges and needs of kinship families. One such workshop, facilitated by Teresa James, Commissioner of Kentucky’s Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), introduced the state’s new approach to mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more Kentuckians are covered by health insurance. In Kentucky, Medicaid covers the cost of substance abuse treatment. Also, due to recent changes by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, all licensed mental and behavioral healthcare providers in Kentucky will be able to bill Medicaid for services. This means that more providers will be able to provide substance abuse treatment, and more families will be able to access it. With the growing epidemic of heroin and other drug addictions in Kentucky, it is not surprising that approximately 85 percent of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect involve substance abuse, according to Commissioner James. This staggering statistic illustrates the direct impact that having access to substance abuse treatment will have on the children and families that the child welfare system serves. By improving access to vital treatment and behavioral health services, the department hopes to tackle some of the root causes for children entering the child welfare system and ultimately decrease the number of Kentucky children coming into care.

Commissioner James also highlighted some behavioral health resources available to support children being raised by relative caregivers, many of whom are eligible for Medicaid. She explained that anyone can contact the child’s managed care organization (MCO) to request a mental health assessment if there is concern about the child’s mental health. Medicaid will also pay for crisis intervention, peer support, and in-home services to help children succeed living with relatives.Kinship Hotline

In addition, DCBS has launched a new kinship support hotline, which can inform caregivers of the resources available to them and facilitate caregivers in obtaining those resources. Caregivers needing support can call 877-565-5608 between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM to speak to an experienced staff member.

Kentucky families can thank Commissioner James and her team for tackling the root causes of why children are unable to stay safely with their parents and end up being cared for by relatives or placed in foster care with strangers. By addressing those root causes and deepening the array of supports available to keep families together safely, fewer children will end up in kinship care. At the same time, we must ensure that the 59,000 children being raised by grandparents and other relatives have the supports they need to thrive. The new kinship support hotline is a step in the right direction, and hopefully a sign of more positive changes to come.