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Family First Act Communications and Advocacy Toolkit2020-03-12T09:34:25-04:00

Family First Act Communications and Advocacy Toolkit

Children and teens involved in the child welfare system do best in families, where there is a safe and stable environment that supports their growth and well-being. Passage of the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (Family First) took important steps to realign federal funding to ensure children in foster care are placed with families and to prioritize critical supports, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, in-home parent skill-based programs, and family therapy, that can help prevent the need for foster care in the first place.

Leadership of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) and Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) has made a commitment for Kentucky to be among the first states to implement Family First beginning October 2019.

This toolkit can help child welfare leaders and professionals, advocates, private providers, and other stakeholders understand Family First and talk about how it will improve outcomes for kids and families in Kentucky.

Please email familyfirst@kyyouth.org if you have questions about the Family First Act. Questions will be compiled, and additional information will be released based on those questions.

Family First : The Basics

Passage of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (Family First) is an opportune moment that offers new possibilities to better respond to the individual needs of children and families in Kentucky. Many state and local advocates, policymakers, public child welfare agencies, private providers, the legal community, and other stakeholders can work in partnership to effectively and efficiently implement the reforms.

Adopted on February 9, 2018, as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892 or Pub. L. 115-123), Family First follows a long tradition of federal legislation designed to ensure that children and teens grow up in a family. In passing the law, Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment, or strengthened parenting skills.

The new law updates child welfare policies and recognizes what research has made clear — that growing up in a family, not in residential or group settings, is essential for all kids, especially those who have experienced abuse or neglect.

Family First makes resources available to promote innovation and flexibility thanks to new federal reimbursement for prevention services. It offers an important opportunity to engage the entire community in planning for Family First implementation and gathering ideas on how preventive services and practice models can be added or improved. In addition to involving families, Family First provides an opportunity to engage existing and new stakeholders.

Public agencies can put families first by endorsing the idea that infants, children, and teens want, need, and deserve a family, that kids do best in families, and that families do best in strong, supportive communities. The new law’s name reflects its key components: a family first for children and teens with prevention services to keep kids safe and families together. Additionally, Family First funding for states is not dependent on the family’s income making the support accessible to all families who may need it.

Leadership of CHFS and DCBS has committed to Kentucky being among the first states to implement Family First beginning October 2019.

The Child Welfare Transformation that is undergoing currently in Kentucky reflects the vision of Family First with its three main goals:

    1. To safely reduce the number of children entering foster care;
    2. To improve the timeliness of appropriate permanency for a child, if the child is removed, whether that be reunification with the child’s parents, permanent kin placement, or through adoption; and,
    3. To reduce the caseloads of caseworkers to better serve families in need.

FAQs

The federal Family First Prevention Services Act will help the Kentucky child welfare system transform the way we keep kids safe and strengthen families. The law promotes keeping children safely with their families while receiving evidence-based prevention services, like family preservation services, instead of placing children in foster care. In addition, the law creates new standards to ensure that children only spend time in nonfamily or residential settings, known as congregate care, when necessary to address their treatment needs.

The law creates these changes through key reforms:

  • Supports prevention services. The law gives states the ability to target their existing federal resources into an array of evidence-based practice prevention and early intervention services to keep children safe, strengthen families, and reduce the need for foster care whenever it is safe to do so.
  • Provides support for kinship (relative) caregivers. Provides federal funds for evidence-based kinship navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a broad range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them. It also requires states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers. Additionally, all evidence-based practice prevention services that are available to parents are also available to kin caregivers.
  • Establishes requirements for placement in residential treatment programs and improves quality and oversight of services. Allows federal reimbursement for care in certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment. It also requires six months of aftercare supports once the child leaves residential care to return home or to a foster family.
  • Improves services to older youth. Allows states to offer services to youth who have aged out of foster care up to age 23, along with adding flexibility to the Education & Training Voucher (ETV) program.

The law does not automatically roll out across every state; all states must begin implementation by October 2021. Each state will need to request to implement prevention programming under Family First and allocate state funds to leverage federal funding for this important purpose.

CHFS and DCBS leadership has committed to being among the first states to implement Family First beginning October 2019.

The prevention services are optional. The residential or group care reforms are not. States do have the option to delay implementation of the residential or group care reforms for up to two years. If they do, they also forgo their ability to participate in the law’s prevention services opportunity or risk loss of federal reimbursement for residential settings.

States need to prepare now to implement Family First. For prevention efforts, they’ll need to affirmatively opt-in for the opportunity to draw down federal funds in this new way to keep families safely together. These prevention services must be approved, evidence-based mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, and in-home parent skill-based services, including parenting skills training, parent education, and individual/family counseling.

States also need to allocate state funds for that work. In order for a state to leverage a reimbursement opportunity of 50 percent of expenditures, at least 50 percent of those expenditures must be for well-supported evidence-based programs, rated such by the Title IV-E prevention services clearinghouse.

For residential or group care reforms, starting October 1, 2019, the law will allow for up to two weeks of federal funding for any foster care placement. After that, it will pay for placements only in the following settings:

1) Foster family homes;
2) Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP);
3) Settings for pregnant or parenting youth in foster care;
4) Independent living settings for youth ages 18 and older; and
5) Settings providing high-quality residential care and supportive services to children and youth who have been found to be, or are at risk of becoming, sex trafficking victims.

For that small but uniquely vulnerable population of children who have needs so significant they cannot be safely met in a family, Family First has created the QRTP model.

  • Those that develop and provide appropriate, effective prevention services based on the needs of children, teens, and their families.
  • Those that provide for families at risk of entering the child welfare system up to 12 months of mental health care; substance abuse and treatment services; in-home, skill-based parenting training; and family therapy. The law also extended time-limits for family reunification services.
  • Those that understand that to be effective, residential treatment programs need to be short-term, therapeutic, and high quality.

In November 2018, Kentucky reached an all-time high of children in foster care. The latest data shows that the commonwealth has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation, with a leading cause being parental substance abuse. Family First offers the opportunity to address the root causes of why children come into foster care, and to help their families heal.

Family First promotes family placements for children in foster care rather than residential settings like group homes. When children stay with their families, they are healthier physically and achieve more developmentally, attain higher education, and earn more income as adults than those who are placed in group homes. Kentucky kids can thrive when they are safe and healthy and have the support of a family. And Kentucky families can best care for their children when they have the support of their community.

Strategic Communications Tips

As Family First implementation begins in Kentucky, there will be numerous opportunities to promote and discuss the benefits of the new law with elected officials, policymakers, foster parents, advocates, and other community leaders using both traditional and social media. When thinking about how to discuss Family First with stakeholders and the broader community, be strategic about messages and how those messages are shared.

To start, develop tailored messages for target audiences and think about the best way to reach your audiences — whether that’s in editorials, op-eds, blogs, radio talk shows, community calendars, or social media.

  • Who is your audience? Are you working to reach internal staff? Elected officials? Service providers? Stakeholders? A broader public?
  • What are values that audience and your agency share?
  • Why does/should Family First matter to that audience?
  • What are the appropriate action steps for that audience?

The framework of a strategic communications plan that promotes Family First should work to align the values and goals of the federal law with your agency’s or community’s values and goals.

Critical elements of a communications plan

– Identify your target audiences, both external and internal.
– Develop tailored messages.
– Produce needed materials.
– Assess your resources and bandwidth for doing a good job.
– Write an action plan with timelines, assignments, and anticipated outcomes.
– Determine ongoing needed activities, such as publishing op-eds, blogs, and social media posts; pitching media stories; cultivating partnerships to collaborate on implementation and promotion; preparing for pushback; and, monitoring results and revising activities as needed.

Key messages should:

– Put kids first. Keep children at the center of messages, rather than agencies, providers, systems, or reforms. Focus on what’s best for kids and their families.
– Keep it simple. Messages need to be compelling, easy to say and be read, heard, and understood.
– Tell personal stories. Describe the impact on kids and their families, and hopefully, their successes, along with a few challenges.
– Tailor messages to the target audiences. Those working within the child welfare system likely know and understand concepts such as kinship, continuum of care, levels of care, or long-term well-being. These terms are not likely to be understood by elected officials, community partners, or broader audiences.
– Explain the bottom line: “Kids can’t wait.” Judges, child welfare agency staff, state legislators, and policymakers need to act now so kids grow up in families, not institutions.

Words Matter

Refer to the new legislation as Family First, the Family First Act, or by its full name of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, rather than FFPSA. The name of the law reflects the vision of the law: A family first for children and teens through quality prevention services. Also, FFPSA is alphabet soup and many audiences will not be familiar with the acronym.

Additionally, words often mean different things to different audiences.

– Try to be inspirational and visionary when describing Family First. Use words such as providing an opportunity to be innovative or having the ability to be responsive to the individual needs of children and teens.
– Try saying, “children and teens growing up in a family,” rather than living with or placed with a family.
– If you refer to the cost of services, try saying cost-efficient rather than cost-savings or cost-cutting.
– Try saying customized or individualized care rather than specialized care.
– Try saying research on child and adolescent development rather than research on brain development.
– Try saying residential and avoiding using the term congregate.

Components of good op-ed and blog post

Op-eds and blogs afford the author the chance to frame Family First in their own words (between 500-800 depending on the publications) while highlighting key messages. Placing an op-ed authored by an agency spokesperson or by a local advocate reinforces agency or community buy-in to the broader audience. The op-ed or blog post can be framed based on the intended audience and ask, such as:

– To reach influential audiences, such as policymakers
– To target service providers to describe how their role is critical for the success of Family First implementation in Kentucky
– To encourage community voices as local champions of Family First

Check out an example of an op-ed placed in a Kentucky publication below.

Calendar of events and traditional media outreach

Themed months are a time to write and pitch stories about Family First. For example, March is Social Work Month, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, May is Foster Care Month, September is Recovery Month, and November is Adoption Month. Home for the holidays is often a theme from Thanksgiving to the end-of-the-year. Other feature stories appear during back-to-school season, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Grandparents’ Day.

Work strategically to place op-eds and news stories (print, broadcast, or online) around state legislative actions or to submit positive media coverage as part of legislative hearings. Use calendars posted in local media outlets as a way to reach community groups and other stakeholders. Weekly papers can be a good way to communicate with local leaders and weekly newspaper editors are often looking for good news stories.

Social media best practices

Social media can be a useful tool to help spread the word about the importance of Family First and the role child welfare leadership, policymakers, community-based organizations, private providers, the legal community, and other community stakeholders can play in its implementation in Kentucky.

Three key attributes to make the most of social media channels:

– Personalization – content tailored to target audiences
– Presentation – timely and relevant content accessible in multiple formats and contexts
– Participation – partners and the public who contribute content in meaningful ways

Social media channels facilitate social engagement, viral sharing of information, and trust.

Critical elements of a communications plan

– Identify your target audiences, both external and internal.
– Develop tailored messages.
– Produce needed materials.
– Assess your resources and bandwidth for doing a good job.
– Write an action plan with timelines, assignments, and anticipated outcomes.
– Determine ongoing needed activities, such as publishing op-eds, blogs, and social media posts; pitching media stories; cultivating partnerships to collaborate on implementation and promotion; preparing for pushback; and, monitoring results and revising activities as needed.

Key messages should:

– Put kids first. Keep children at the center of messages, rather than agencies, providers, systems, or reforms. Focus on what’s best for kids and their families.
– Keep it simple. Messages need to be compelling, easy to say and be read, heard, and understood.
– Tell personal stories. Describe the impact on kids and their families, and hopefully, their successes, along with a few challenges.
– Tailor messages to the target audiences. Those working within the child welfare system likely know and understand concepts such as kinship, continuum of care, levels of care, or long-term well-being. These terms are not likely to be understood by elected officials, community partners, or broader audiences.
– Explain the bottom line: “Kids can’t wait.” Judges, child welfare agency staff, state legislators, and policymakers need to act now so kids grow up in families, not institutions.

Words Matter

Refer to the new legislation as Family First, the Family First Act, or by its full name of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, rather than FFPSA. The name of the law reflects the vision of the law: A family first for children and teens through quality prevention services. Also, FFPSA is alphabet soup and many audiences will not be familiar with the acronym.

Additionally, words often mean different things to different audiences.

– Try to be inspirational and visionary when describing Family First. Use words such as providing an opportunity to be innovative or having the ability to be responsive to the individual needs of children and teens.
– Try saying, “children and teens growing up in a family,” rather than living with or placed with a family.
– If you refer to the cost of services, try saying cost-efficient rather than cost-savings or cost-cutting.
– Try saying customized or individualized care rather than specialized care.
– Try saying research on child and adolescent development rather than research on brain development.
– Try saying residential and avoiding using the term congregate.

Components of good op-ed and blog post

Op-eds and blogs afford the author the chance to frame Family First in their own words (between 500-800 depending on the publications) while highlighting key messages. Placing an op-ed authored by an agency spokesperson or by a local advocate reinforces agency or community buy-in to the broader audience. The op-ed or blog post can be framed based on the intended audience and ask, such as:

– To reach influential audiences, such as policymakers
– To target service providers to describe how their role is critical for the success of Family First implementation in Kentucky
– To encourage community voices as local champions of Family First

Check out an example of an op-ed placed in a Kentucky publication below.

Calendar of events and traditional media outreach

Themed months are a time to write and pitch stories about Family First. For example, March is Social Work Month, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, May is Foster Care Month, September is Recovery Month, and November is Adoption Month. Home for the holidays is often a theme from Thanksgiving to the end-of-the-year. Other feature stories appear during back-to-school season, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Grandparents’ Day.

Work strategically to place op-eds and news stories (print, broadcast, or online) around state legislative actions or to submit positive media coverage as part of legislative hearings. Use calendars posted in local media outlets as a way to reach community groups and other stakeholders. Weekly papers can be a good way to communicate with local leaders and weekly newspaper editors are often looking for good news stories.

Social media best practices

Social media can be a useful tool to help spread the word about the importance of Family First and the role child welfare leadership, policymakers, community-based organizations, private providers, the legal community, and other community stakeholders can play in its implementation in Kentucky.

Three key attributes to make the most of social media channels:

– Personalization – content tailored to target audiences
– Presentation – timely and relevant content accessible in multiple formats and contexts
– Participation – partners and the public who contribute content in meaningful ways

Social media channels facilitate social engagement, viral sharing of information, and trust.

Talking Points and Messaging Tips

These talking points are designed to help you communicate with key stakeholders about Family First. Here are a few tips to portray your messages effectively:

  • Build talking points around the mission, values, and vision of your agency.
  • Explain how the overarching goals and focus of Family First supports the values your agency shares with stakeholders.
  • Describe the possibilities for exciting new opportunities, innovations, community partnerships, and other actions provided by Family First implementation; reinforce these with stories, data, and concrete examples, when possible.
  • Tailor your messages to key target audiences.
  • Try talking in short sound bites in addition to providing detailed background.

Examples of talking points:

Shared vision, values, and mission reflected in Family First

  • Kids involved with the child welfare system should grow up in safe, stable, and secure families that support their long-term well-being. Research shows that growing up in a family is essential for all kids, especially those who have experienced abuse or neglect.
  • Systems should work to keep families together by providing access to prevention services, so children and teens can grow up in their own home and caregivers who need access to treatment and support services can improve their ability to care safely for their kids.
  • Children and teens who cannot stay at home should live with relatives or close friends. When this is not possible, they should live with a loving and supportive foster family.

True transformation will take time

Family First is the first major modernization and overhaul of the child welfare system in three decades and the proper implementation of all elements will take time.

Beyond Family First implementation, policy modernization will always be needed, based on lessons learned and evolving evidence on what works best for our children, teens, and families. Family First supports DCBS’s ongoing child welfare system transformation efforts. Kentucky now has additional resources to promote innovation, collaboration, and partnerships thanks to the federal dollars that can be used for prevention services.

Kentucky has recently undertaken significant reforms to improve the child welfare system, and the state and community stakeholders can propel those efforts by leveraging federal funding reforms through Family First

Local advocates, policymakers, and community stakeholders agree, passage of Family First offers an opportunity for us to be responsive to the specific needs of children, teens, and families. Family First provides federal reimbursement resources to promote transformation efforts focused on prevention. This is an important opportunity to engage the entire community in planning for Family First implementation and gather ongoing feedback on improving Kentucky’s preventive services and practice models. This includes partnering across systems and engaging with community-based organizations, private providers, the legal community, and other stakeholders.

A strong federal-state-community collaboration is the foundation for new Family First policies, which demand quality prevention services with a proven track record based on data, facts, and evidence. Implementation of Family First’s provisions means opportunities for all families, more resources, and the flexibility to be innovative and responsive to opportunities, especially during challenging times such as today’s opioid epidemic.

Family First offers help and hope for children, teens, and families

The law provides an opportunity for positive change and supports ongoing efforts to transform our child welfare system by keeping children and teens safely with their own family and to avoid the often-traumatizing experience of unnecessary placement into the foster care system.

  • Prevention services, including in-home, skills-based training for parents; mental health care, including family therapy; and substance abuse and treatment programs, are important parts of Family First.
  • When DCBS and the courts determine that children need to enter foster care, Family First specifically calls for them to be placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting to meet their individual needs.
  • The law recognizes that treatment programs can provide short-term, customized therapeutic support while kids are living in families. This could be with birth parents, other relatives, close friends, or foster caregivers. Residential treatment may be needed for short-term stabilization, as well as follow-up services when children return to their family.
  • Federally reimbursed services are meant to support and strengthen families, so children don’t enter foster care. They are also meant to maintain child and family connections when children enter foster care or require short-term residential treatment. And they provide six months of aftercare when a child has transitioned home from a residential (QRTP) setting.

The opioid epidemic

The national and statewide opioid crisis has been a motivating factor for broad support of Family First. The number of children in foster care has increased dramatically in Kentucky and nationally, and data shows that is largely attributed to the opioid addiction crisis.

  • Family First offers new supports for our families struggling with substance use disorders by providing access to mental health care, substance abuse programs, treatment services, and increased support for grandparents and other relatives to care for children.
  • In appropriate cases, children can stay with their parents while at residential substance abuse treatment programs for drug or alcohol addiction.
  • The Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program and Kentucky Strengthening Ties and Empowering Parents (KSTEP) program are examples of the Commonwealth’s response to the opioid epidemic and its impact on families, which can be expanded in implementation of Family First.

Kentucky prioritizes placing children in the care of a relative

Totaling at nearly 100,000, Kentucky has the highest rate in the nation of children in the care of a relative, with an estimated 15,000 children placed by DCBS in the care of a relative due to abuse, neglect, or dependency. Kinship caregivers need access to information about available supports to ensure the children in their care have what they need to thrive.

  • Family First provides funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them.
  • DCBS has developed an “array of services” for kinship caregivers to access and is utilizing Family First funds to train staff on the services available to relatives.
  • Family First also allows kin caregivers of a child who is determined as a candidate for foster care to access the same prevention services available to the child’s parent, including parent skill-based programs, mental health treatment, and substance abuse treatment.

Additional language for target audiences:

Child welfare policy should support families

  • Research shows that kids of all ages need close family relationships to develop and grow. Attachment is needed for healthy child and adolescent development; without it, children struggle when they are younger and throughout adulthood.
  • Separation from family is traumatic for children; it’s painful for parents, too. When it’s decided to separate children from parents, we owe them the best possible care and family is the best choice, starting with relatives or close friends.
  • While children who enter foster care have experienced significant trauma, removal from their family is itself an additional trauma that compounds that experience.
  • Family First supports families in crisis, promoting resilience and healing to address the underlying reasons that children come into foster care in the first place.
  • To provide high-quality services to children and families, public agencies and family courts need community support — a wide array of stakeholders, advocates, and our families need to collaborate and work together, guided by the communities they serve. Children and youth do best in a strong family and families do best in supportive communities.
  • Child and family safety and well-being are at the center of our work. They deserve access to quality services designed around evidence-based research and outcomes.
  • Children and teens touched by our child welfare system need to have the right options, at the right time, with the right services for themselves and their families.

Family First supports efforts to address the opioid crisis

  • Parental substance use and the ongoing opioid crisis are having a major impact on the increasing numbers of children entering foster care around the country.
  • Over one-third of children entering foster care do so at least in part as a result of parental substance abuse.
  • Keeping families safely together while parents receive needed treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) improves the likelihood that parents will recover. It also reduces the trauma children experience in entering foster care.
  • Family First allows states to use federal foster care dollars to keep families safely together, by funding treatment and service options for parents when children are at imminent risk of entering foster care.
  • Family First also allows states to use federal foster care (Title IV-E) dollars to place children with their parent or caregiver in trauma-informed treatment centers.

Messaging tips for target audiences:

When talking to elected officials

  • Point out that the commonwealth and policymakers have established a track record of keeping children safe and strengthening families. Family First can further propel those efforts in Kentucky.
  • Be prepared to respond to possible local backlash among people who may not be aware that there are proven ways to help families stay together with the right incentives and investments in programs that work.
  • Only if needed, make a case for cost-effective outcomes rather than cost savings.
  • Provide examples of programs that have been proven to be effective and now have an opportunity to be funded under Family First, including Kentucky’s Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program and the Kentucky Strengthening Ties and Empowering Parents (KSTEP) program.

When talking to agency leaders and providers

  • Concerns about finding good foster parents can be reframed as the need to focus more resources on better identification and support of kinship care, individualized child and teen recruitment programs, certification standards, and training and support of foster and kinship resource families.
  • Add examples of success stories of kids safely living with or returning to their families and the decreased need for out-of-home placements based on preventive services for parents.
  • Put “loving” before “family” when discussing the benefits to kids of relative or foster families.

Sample Social Media Posts

Below are sample social media messages to share and customize to advocate for Family First implementation. Include relevant state-specific data to personalize posts and utilize the hashtags #FamilyFirstAct and #FamilyFirstActKY.

  • As a {profession}, I know children fare best in families. Family First focuses on keeping families together when possible so they can heal. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • As a {profession} in KY, I support implementation of Family First to help vulnerable children and families in crisis. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • As a {profession} in KY, I know Family First will help support families in crisis and promote resilience. We must implement Family First without delay. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Family First shifts the focus of the child welfare system to prevention. Together, KY can ensure the best outcomes for kids and families. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Family First is evidence-based policy that will help vulnerable children impacted by the opioid crisis by connecting parents to treatment and keeping families together safely. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Family First addresses the root causes of why children come into foster care in the first place and works to keep children in families where they can thrive. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Kids involved with the child welfare system should grow up in safe, stable, and secure families that support their long-term well-being. #FamilyFirstAct prioritizes keeping kids in families. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Research makes clear that growing up in a family is essential for all kids, especially those who have experienced abuse or neglect. #FamilyFirstAct prioritizes keeping kids in families. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Systems must work to keep families together by providing access to prevention services. #FamilyFirstAct prioritize children and teens growing up in their own homes. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • Children and teens who cannot stay at home should live with relatives or close friends. When this is not possible, they should live with a loving and supportive foster family. #FamilyFirstActKY
  • As a {profession} in KY, I support implementation of #FamilyFirstAct to ___________________________ #FamilyFirstActKY

Example Op-ed

Family First, Kids Win
By Abby Drane, CEO of Centerstone

Originally posted in the Courier Journal in December 2018.

“If you wanna to be happy in a million ways;
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!”

These lyrics ring through my head this time of year because, it’s true, there is no place like being home with family and friends during the holiday season. But, I know that for too many kids across the commonwealth, home for the holidays has a much more profound and complex meaning.

Kentucky has the second highest rate in the nation of substantiated victims of child abuse or neglect. We’re at an all-time high of kids living in foster care or residential treatment facilities. Nearly one in 10 Kentucky kids are being raised by relatives outside of the foster care system. And substance abuse is a direct contributor of over half of cases where a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, especially for infants and toddlers.

When we see these numbers, we immediately want to go into crisis mode. As someone who has dedicated their life to helping children who’ve experienced some of the worst traumas, these numbers remind me that not only do we have an ethical obligation to ensure these kids succeed, we have a moral obligation to do what’s right for our most vulnerable Kentuckians. And as a partner in the Kosair Charities Face It Movement, we understand the importance of policy and practice level changes can make a real difference for kids.

What if there were a way to prevent these traumas, support families, and ensure kids have a home sweet home for the holidays?

With the passage of House Bill 1 and state budget investments earlier this year, Kentucky has shown its commitment to improving the child welfare system to promote better outcomes for children and strengthen families. And, because of recent federal legislation, the state has the opportunity to propel those efforts by taking advantage of federal funding on prevention and preservation through the Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First’s prevention focus presents Kentucky with a real opportunity to help families stay together and kids to have safe forever homes.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has already made it clear – Kentucky will be among the first states to implement Family First. And thankfully, our state leaders are beginning to understand the important next steps needed to make Family First investments a reality in Kentucky.

There are five major pieces of Family First that emphasize keeping children safely with families:

  • Reach vulnerable families early to help parents develop the skills needed to keep their kids safe.
  • Expand programs that address both children’s safety in the home and the substance abuse treatment needs of their parents, like the START program or K-STEP.
  • Continue to prioritize and support kinship families by helping them understand all services available to them.
  • Prioritize family connections when a child must be removed from their home and support families on the path to a permanent home for a child.
  • Support young adults leaving foster care as they transition to adulthood.

These policy priorities are absolutely imperative to ensuring that every Kentucky kid has a family. And yet, that commitment is not just about Frankfort – it is about local action, county courthouses, faith communities, and business leaders, as well. We at Centerstone recently had a chance to partner with United Healthcare and Kentucky Youth Advocates in a series of town hall convenings from Paducah to Manchester. Whether it was in Louisville or Glasgow or Covington, local community members were animated at what they could do to connect kids and families. Maybe it was an adult Sunday School class providing respite care to a kinship family down the street. Or, maybe it was law enforcement, the school system, and that local community center thinking about better communications when a kid was caught in the crisis. The real take-away is that elected leaders and you and me all have roles to play when it comes to stemming this tide of children entering foster care. Together – and only together – can we ensure a family is there for every little boy and girl in Kentucky.

At Centerstone, we see how this seismic shift in resources will allow us to focus our services on reaching kids and families earlier in a more effective, efficient way. We understand that kids thrive when they have the support of a stable family and families can best care for their little ones when they have a supportive community. Let’s all commit to helping our youngest Kentuckians be happy—and safe and healthy—in a million different ways.