LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on everyone including those involved in Kentucky’s child welfare system. 

What You Need To Know

  • New survey finds foster children need more emotional and financial help

  • Survey featured seven different focus groups, featuring respondents from 43 urban and rural counties across Kentucky

  • Mental health also a big concern

  • Concern isn't just for children, but also for caseworkers who help them

Kentucky Youth Advocates along with Casey Family Programs surveyed Kentuckians involved in the child welfare system. Of those surveyed, 95 percent of respondents still in or recently out of foster or kinship care say they need more emotional and financial support as a result of the pandemic. 

33 percent of foster care parents said they needed more emotional support compared to 43 percent of kinship care providers. The numbers increased when it comes to the need for more financial support as a result of the pandemic, 42 percent of foster care parents, and 57 percent of kinship caregivers answered they could use more support. 

The data was comprised of seven different focus groups, featuring respondents from 43 urban and rural counties across Kentucky. The survey found four themes of what was giving young people in foster care and caregivers the most trouble during the pandemic. 

Many foster or kinship children and their caregivers are facing issues with Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days. There are several reasons they are facing trouble from NTI days including having problems accessing the internet or students being farther behind in school than the caregiver realized. 

“Youth who have experienced foster care or kinship care are often more behind in their education as a result of those moves as a result of that instability and that was something that really came to light,” said Shannon Moody, Senior Policy and Advocacy Director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. 

While the untraditional school days are causing trouble for students there was a silver lining with the “new normal”, the personalized learning with caregivers and students is helping to improve reading levels of students. 

Another issue many foster and kinship families are facing is inadequate access to mental and behavioral health. Several of the foster and kinship alumni who answered the survey say they are feeling anxious and isolated as a result of the pandemic. While Telehealth options are available for therapy options many of the respondents say it does not adequately fit the needs of the young people. Foster parents and kinship providers are also seeing an increase in behavioral issues. 

"It was pretty clear during the focus groups and interviews that mental health was a huge concern for both the young people who are 18, 19, and 20 but also the foster parents and kinship providers,” said Moody. 

Barriers to basic care were another main theme of those responding to the survey, which includes many people fearing instability about placement and fearing of falling ill from COVID-19. The fear of getting sick was very prevalent among the kinship providers who could possibly be at a vulnerable age. 

Finally, many faced issues navigating the changed system, this included trying to figure out virtual hearings and lack of communication from social workers or providers. This was an issue not only for young people but for the caseworkers who feared for the safety of the children since they were unable to see them in person and spot signs of abuse or neglect. 

House Minority Leader Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shivley, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, were listening to the results of the survey and say they hope to tackle some of these issues during the next legislative session in 2021. 

“We need to be aware of these issues,” said Westerfield. “The key is making that a priority when we write that one year budget.” 

Advocates also spoke about things they would like to see changed within the Department for Community Based Services. 

Norma Hatfield, president of Kinship Families Coalition, asked the new DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub to keep families and stakeholders involved in changes being discussed. 

“If you really want to service the customers that you have you need to talk to them about what it is that their expectations are,” she said. 

Hatfield noted she is often part of the start of a task force or working group and then is not involved or informed of movement until after decisions have been made. 

A former foster youth and advocate for youth in foster care, Tyler Hunter, asked DCBS to get caseloads of social workers under control. He noted social workers are dealing with sometimes upwards of 60 cases causing burnout for them and potentially undesirable placement of the youth. 

 “We have a 1950’s mentality as long as you have a bed, food and shelter then you’re good. No, you are not good, you need a home not just a place to lay your head,” he said. 

Miranda-Straub assured advocates she plans to work with stakeholders to help improve the child welfare system in Kentucky.