In a 2014, WFPL News reported on the significant challenges faced by Kentucky’s public school districts: homelessness, court system involved families, substance abuse, and young people involved in the foster care system.
Across the state, approximately 7,600 children and youth are in foster care, a system that struggles to adequately meet the complex needs of families and children. “Kentucky is near the threshold of correcting years of messy bureaucracy that have led to high costs and inefficient care for children, state child-welfare leaders and advocates say. But more time is needed to fix the byzantine system, says Teresa James, commissioner of the Department of Community Based Services, which oversees the state’s child welfare.”
According to the WFPL News report, the child welfare system is working to address two critical needs:
First, the assessments kids get when they enter the welfare system aren’t adequate, says Crystal Collins-Camargo, an associate professor at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville.
“The system today does not routinely, in a systematic way, assess those kids at the front door,” she says.
“That doesn’t mean a lot of kids don’t get referred very quickly on to mental health services. A lot of them do.”
But that’s not always a good thing. Children must be referred to the right agencies for the right services, she says.
Once the assessments improve, the second major issue will be making sure the right services are available.
That’s where the woman with the “impossible job” comes in.
“I have to change. I don’t get a choice,” says James, who has led the state’s Department of Community Based Services since 2012.
James is lauded by some child-welfare advocates who are optimistic that Kentucky is close to making significant changes.
But she’ll need to be creative, because money is tight.
“There’s just a lot of grassroots types of programs that don’t exist any more that provided some really strong outcomes for us, and now we don’t have those,” she says. “So a lot of those basic services, DCBS staff are now trying to pinch hit.”