Fostering Family, Part I: Need for foster and adoptive parents in Kentucky is great
Published 1:38 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series by Olivia Talbott looking at the need for foster care and adoption in central Kentucky and what it’s like for foster and adoptive parents.
By OLIVIA TALBOTT
You’ve probably seen them: those white signs with blue lettering. They pepper roadsides in viewable places, advertising much like a for-sale sign or business closing would. But these signs are different — they advertise a desperate need in the community for foster parents.
There are more than 8,500 children in the state of Kentucky who are living with someone other than their biological parents or legal guardians, according to Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services. These kids are living in “out-of-home care,” meaning foster homes, residential placements and relatives’ homes.
Currently, 28.5 percent of those children — more than 2,400 — are in need of adoptive families, as the rights of their biological parents have been permanently terminated. And the need is growing. The number of substantiated childhood abuse and neglect cases in Kentucky increased from 9,934 in 2012 to 15,378 in 2016, according to an annual report from the Department for Community Based services.
A total of 334 children in those cases died or nearly died from mistreatment.
Foster care is “temporary placement” for these children in need, said Kaylyn Wren, a foster care specialist for Sunrise Children’s Services in Danville.
“The goal initially with every child is to return them to their parent,” she said. “If that particular parent’s rights are revoked, then the goal for that child changes to adoption.”
The foster care system’s first priority is to be a liaison between a child and their parent, but if the parents prove themselves to be unacceptable guardians, that priority changes, according to Wren.
For Sara Everson, a foster mom and labor and delivery nurse, all of the foster children she and her husband have received suffered neglect stemming from substance abuse issues.
“That was the parent’s main issue,” said Everson. “They were putting their drug life before their kids, but their charge is neglect.”
In Boyle County alone, there have been nine confirmed cases of sexual abuse, 10 confirmed cases of physical abuse, 61 confirmed cases of neglect and two confirmed cases of emotional abuse this past year, according to Kentucky’s Task Force for Crimes Against Children Inc.
Everson said she’s had heartbreaking experiences with babies who were exposed to recreational drug use during gestation.
“These babies go through withdrawal,” she said. “They scream all day, are inconsolable and overstimulated.”
Everson said in extreme cases, babies have to be treated with morphine to ease their pain.
Wren said new foster parents sometimes don’t understand how affected children are by what has happened to them.
“Unrealistic expectations are the biggest issue I run into with potential foster parents,” Wren said. “These children have rough pasts, so it’s impossible to find that perfect kid.”
Wren recommends that potential foster parents endeavor not to “have the expectation that any kid will come to them adapted,” because “being removed from their former home is traumatizing.”
Everson has witnessed how being removed from a home can impact kids.
“We were one sibling group’s sixth placement in six months,” Everson said. “They showed no emotion and they wouldn’t trust anyone.”
Everson attributes this to the trauma of multiple moves in such a short period of time.
“Every placement is considered a trauma,” she said. “Because it completely uproots their childhoods and all they’ve known.”
According to an evaluation of Kentucky’s child welfare system by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, most foster children in Kentucky live in an average of more than three other placements before they make it to a permanent home. Fortunately, this number has decreased from an average of seven placements prior to permanency in previous years.
“One of our foster kiddos was terrified at nighttime,” Everson said. “He had severe anxiety and would pee the bed and not tell anyone.”
Eventually, the child told Everson that at night while living with his biological parents, they would tell him that they “ had to put medicine in their arm and he wasn’t allowed to come out of his room.” They were heroin addicts, according to Everson.
“People are afraid of getting a child with issues that they don’t know about,” Wren said. “We try to prepare potential parents and disclose all of the information that we have on the child.”
Wren said Sunrise requires potential foster parents to participate in a training program in order to be eligible to foster a child through the agency, along with an accompanied home visit and profile matching.
“Our foster kiddos did a lot of lying, lots of manipulation, showed physical aggression” Everson said. “And all of them hoarded food in the beginning.”
Hoarding was a behavior that came from being insecure in the past about whether there would be enough food, she said.
“One of our kiddos would dig under the oven to get at the crumbs,” Everson said. “We found food in backpacks, in pillow cases, under the bed — anywhere really.”
Wren said the greatest need that their agency has is “versatile” foster parents, who are compatible with taking older children.
“Many people are put off by the older age of a child,” Wren said. “… They are not as desired as a baby,” dwindling their chances for adoption even further.
The average age of a child who enters the foster care system, according to Kentucky’s Cabinet for health and family services, is nearly 7 years old. At that age, their likely lengthy journey to permanency or adoption has probably just begun. The average amount of time a foster child spends in care is a little more than two years — 25.7 months.
Adria Johnson, commissioner for the Department for Community Based Services, said in an interview conducted by John Gregory for Kentucky’s Educational Television that “the youth who are at greatest risk of lingering in the system include those with special physical or medical needs; sibling groups; minority children over the age of two; and older teenage boys.”
On average, children in these demographics will spend almost a third of their childhoods in foster care, according to Johnson.
Even worse, children can age out of the system without ever finding a permanent home — something that studies show leads to numerous problems in adulthood.
According to the Child Welfare League of America, 582 18-year-olds in Kentucky aged out of foster care in 2015 without ever finding a permanent family.
According to Child Trends research, the only national study of youth aging out of foster care, “38 percent had emotional problems, 50 percent had used illegal drugs, and 25 percent were involved with the legal system.”
The National Foster Youth Institute found that 20 percent of the children who age out of foster care will become instantly homeless and seven out of 10 girls who age out will become pregnant before the age of 21.
Financial assistance is available for people who choose to foster or adopt.
According to Kentucky’s Department for Human Services, foster and adoptive families receive a per diem allowance ranging from $22-$60 per day to help with expenses. The rates are predetermined depending on the needs of the child. And “all foster care children are eligible for free lunch programs” at schools.
Wren said many people “are hesitant because of the supposed cost, but foster-to-adopt provides monetary compensation even after adoption.”
“Tuition at a Kentucky state college is 100-percent paid for in the instance of a child who has gone through foster care,” she said.
Everson said being a foster parent is “not easy — it’s really hard and exhausting.”
“I feel like it’s a calling, to leave everything we’re comfortable with to help these kids,” she said. “If we don’t meet these needs (when) they are children, then they are the ones that are in the homeless shelters, addicts, high school dropouts. If we don’t meet this need (when) they are children, then we are dealing with them as an adults.
“If it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you probably need to do it.”
SO YOU KNOW
To meet some of the children in Kentucky who are in need of adoption, call 1-800-565-KIDS or visit https://prdweb.chfs.ky.gov/SNAP/index.aspx.