Time to support family services agencies is now

Published 10:25 am Thursday, November 16, 2017


Sunrise Children’s Services

Mental illness, opioid addiction, child abuse and neglect — these are just some of the problems affecting young people and families in the commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s getting worse. And it’s closer than we might think. This is not the time to watch and wait. We must act now.

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As president of a faith-based, non-profit agency that provides out-of-home care, foster families, and foster-to-adopt services in Kentucky, I am well aware of the challenges Kentucky families face every day. I accept the fact that not one person, and not even one agency, can help solve these issues alone. But before any of us respond, we must appreciate and understand the scope of the problem.

Mental illness is currently affecting young people in significant ways. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five children ages 13 to 18 already have, or will have, a serious mental illness. Half of all chronic mental illness will begin by the age of 14; three quarters of mental illness will begin by age 24. Technically, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a mental illness, according to Ellen Braaten, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital. Characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, ADHD is hitting Kentucky particularly hard. In a recent published report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of ADHD in Kentucky children have increased to 14.8 percent, ranking Kentucky highest in all states in 2011. More needs to be done to adequately address the issue of mental health in Kentucky.

And then there’s the opioid addiction. Opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, act on opioid receptors in the body to relieve pain. Ironically, these pain relievers generate even more pain and emotional trauma for families. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy’s latest report shows an increase of drug overdose deaths in the last five years in Boyle County. Thirty-six deaths occurred during this time; 19 deaths occurred in 2016 alone. The opioid epidemic is real. It’s deadly. And it’s affecting where we live.

Finally, there is the issue of child abuse and neglect. I can tell you that over 15,000 Kentucky children were abused or neglected last year. More and more children are taken out of their homes and placed in foster care. As of October of this year, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) reported that 8,598 Kentucky kids were placed in out-of-home care. As more of these kids find healing and a brighter future, there is still support that is needed. The blessing of a new child in the home does not come without struggles and trials. Many of these families will seek direction and support.

You may say, “But I’m not a licensed therapist. What can I do?” You can support those agencies that are already helping families in crisis. Find out where family services offices are located in your town and give them a call. Often, they are running low on resources and supplies. According to Kenny Williams, vice president of community-based services for Sunrise Children’s Services, items needed at this time of year are personal hygiene items, school supplies, food and clothing. Jessica Wigginton, Sunrise program director of family services for the central region of the state, prefers gift cards in her area offices so that they can be given to families in need to purchase food and gas.

Maybe your family is the one needing help. How do you know which agency would best meet your needs? The first thing is to check the internet for family services offices near you and contact them. Make sure they offer licensed professionals such as: LPCC (licensed professional clinical counselor); LCSW (licensed clinical social worker); LPP (licensed psychological practitioner); and LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist). Have an honest conversation with the agency on whether or not they can meet your family’s needs. Ask for references.

If you can help, then help. If you need help, seek assistance. Just don’t wait. These issues and problems facing our commonwealth and our nation will not disappear without us uniting our hearts and hands and committing to solve these problems together. The time to respond is now.

Dale Suttles is president of Sunrise Children’s Services. He lives in Danville.