Beginning in June, as one of the Kentucky Thriving Families, Safer Children goals, the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) partnered with Kentucky Youth Advocates to launch a Birth Parent Advisory Council. This council includes a diverse group of parents from across the Commonwealth who gather around Kentucky’s child welfare system. 

Unlike typical decision makers for policies and services that affect families, this group has something extra to contribute — personal lived expertise as a parent who has interacted with DCBS. 

As part of a shift toward family and community well-being and recognizing a growing national effort to include those impacted as valuable stakeholders, DCBS embraced the need to make a seat at the table for parents at the forefront of systems change conversations. To capture the purpose of this intentionality to both include and empower those directly affected, the council agreed to officially recognize itself as KY SEAT (System Experience At the Table). 

The council has been meeting twice a month to discuss advocacy priorities, such as creating inclusive and informed considerations for language, cultural, and literary barriers for families as well as making parent services and rights accessible, attainable, and advertised. They also hope to advocate for a variety of issues parents face and deserve support and understanding for, such as substance use disorder and mental health stigma, family violence and sexual assault, and having children with developmental and behavioral needs. A full list of policy and practice change recommendations were presented during two introduction meetings with leadership representatives from DCBS. 

KY SEAT members hope to use their voices to expand beyond the ongoing partnership with DCBS and begin presenting to the Kentucky General Assembly as well.

“I want to be a part of Kentucky’s change for our children’s future because I wasn’t protected, nor was my child.”  – KY SEAT Member and Parent, Shelby County

Knowing firsthand what parents experience during child welfare investigations, cases, child removal, and reunification, KY SEAT’s mission is to empower parents to advocate for themselves and for a child welfare system that accommodates families in an accountable, transparent, and supportive way. Their vision is for all Kentucky parents to be seen, heard, protected, and supported so no family feels alone. 

“You can sit around and complain—or become part of the solution” – KY SEAT Member and  Parent, Carter County. 

By concentrating on being forward-thinking and solutions-focused, they hope to accomplish just that. 

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), more than 1 in 3 children will be investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) before they turn 18, and over half of Black children. Yet the parents on the council agreed that most of them felt alone during their experience, did not know their rights, and did not know where to turn to for answers. Even undergoing an investigation that gets closed out with no further action can cause years of lingering shame and have lasting negative effects on a parent’s sense of agency and trust of systems. 

The parents of KY SEAT share a collective sense of relief and purpose in knowing that, though there was pain and tragedy in their experiences, they can use their stories and knowledge to ensure parents across Kentucky now have a voice in putting families first. 

KY SEAT currently has just under 10 parents as members and is still actively recruiting more willing voices to speak up for change. If you are a parent with experience with Kentucky’s child welfare system, you can provide feedback or express interest in the council HERE

KY SEAT is financially supported by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.