Thursday, February 18, 2010

Foster care and family preservation in Kentucky: The ugly side of a fully-“accredited” agency

A previous post to this Blog dealt with the sham of "accreditation," a phony seal of approval that child welfare agencies essentially give each other. I noted an example of just how bad a private agency can get and still be "accredited." The post also noted how the reaction of the Child Welfare League of America, which created the so-called "Council on Accreditation," was to try to ignore the problems.

But what about a big public agency. Would they have to do any better? Apparently not.
The State of Kentucky long has bragged about being "accredited." The "seal of approval" from COA is right on the home page of the website of their child welfare agency, known as the

Department for Community Based Services (DCBS).

But judging by a 2007 report from the inspector general for the state's human services agency, that's nothing to brag about. Unfortunately, the full report no longer appears to be available from the Inspector General's website – so NCCPR has posted it on our website here. Below, some highlights – all are direct quotes:

The decision to remove a child from their parents' home is often completed under subjective standards, especially when the allegations involve neglect or dependency issues. …Cultural and socio-economic status issues are often interpreted as creating an inadequate environment for children. For example, a home that is cluttered, or not as clean as the worker would like, may be described as "filthy" to the court. Children are removed because the home is dirty versus unsafe. … In one situation, the Judge was infuriated at the [child welfare agency], and while denying the petition, instructed the family they no longer needed to cooperate with the [agency] because they had already been through enough.

Some Lincoln Trail Region DCBS employees displayed a prevalent attitude of omnipotence in interactions with clients and community partners. … Statements reflecting personal bias against clients were used in documenting incidents and situations in the files. Calls routinely were not returned to community partners or clients. DCBS staff complained that other staff made comments reflecting racial stereotypes. …

Hardin County staff has reported that other social service workers have boasted about making it difficult for clients to work with DCBS staff. Social service workers have laughed at parents as they advised them they were removing their children and during the removal process. Social service workers have called clients indecent names in the hallway and offices of the Hardin County DCBS office. One social service worker struck and cursed a biological parent during a visit with his child … [emphasis added].

… Two DCBS workers were nicknamed "The Queen of Removal" and two Permanency Team workers were nicknamed "The Terminator." Additionally, a regional supervisor referred to the Permanency Team as "The TPR Team".

Workers respond aggressively to any perceived challenge to their actions. For example, biological and foster parents complained children were removed from their home because they "talked back" to the workers. …

Domestic violence victims have been advised by social service workers to leave their abusive spouses and go to a domestic violence shelter. Once they are living at a shelter, some victims have been told the shelter is not appropriate for children and their children will be removed if the parent does not find an alternative residence.

Case plans are intended to outline the goals biological parents must achieve to have their children returned to their home. Requirements were routinely included on case plans that were expensive, relative to the client's financial situation; required unnecessary travel; and were not relative to the family's issues, as identified by the worker. … While a case plan should not be easy, some case plans were intentionally written to be too difficult to complete. Items were included on the case plan that appeared overly burdensome and unnecessary, such as requiring the client to attain a General Educational Diploma (GED). …

The regional supervisors established an unwritten regional policy that required every family to obtain a professional assessment for domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse, even if there were no domestic violence, mental health, or substance abuse issues present in the family. This unnecessarily increased the amount of time children were out of their parents' homes, added to the stress and requirements of the parents, and caused additional expense for families that were already struggling financially.

There is no mechanism to assure or verify services necessary to assist families in reunification were provided to them. Parents have been required to pay for assessments that were court-ordered to be paid by DCBS. There is no objective method to determine when a case plan is completed. This results in confusion between parents and DCBS staff. Various DCBS staff mandated differing results to fulfill the same case plan requirements, even to the extent that workers contradicted court findings. In turn, the parents' chances at successful family reunification may be primarily dependent on the caseworker assigned to their case. Parents have been required to complete the same items more than once, because one worker states they have fulfilled the requirement and the next worker states they have not. In one case where this situation occurred, after two years, it was determined the parents' original effort had fulfilled the case plan requirements. The child was out of the home the entire two years, and remains out of the home, although the parents appear to have fulfilled all case plan requirements.

Parents are not provided legal representation at the 72-hour hearing. This hearing is pivotal in determining if there is enough evidence to maintain children in out-of-home care or return them home. One court officer stated children are sometimes left in foster/adoptive homes instead of being returned to their parents, not because their parents are unable to keep them, but because the foster/adoptive homes are better.

Prior to a complaint from the Hardin County Attorney's Office, in November 2005, workers were routinely using a "Verbal Order" of the court to remove children, during normal business hours, instead of contacting the County Attorney's office for a removal petition. The County Attorney complained after workers failed to follow-up with the submission of the required petition, or the facts in the petition filed later did not match the information relayed to the judge verbally, and would not have resulted in the issuance of an Emergency Custody Order …[emphasis added].

The regional emphasis was placed on adoption, instead of family reunification. … Lincoln Trail Region P&P staff was evaluated according to whether the adoption goal was reached, but not evaluated on the number of families reunified. …

… The use of concurrent placements/resource homes creates a conflict for some foster parents, who wish to adopt, and discourages them from assisting the biological parents in having the family reunited. While many foster/adoptive parents maintain perspective, some ride a reverse roller coaster from the biological parents as they are placed in a conflicting role of supporting reunification or obtaining children of their own. Often, foster/adoptive parents receive adoption subsidies after the adoption is completed, so they have nothing to lose if the child is adopted and everything to lose if the child is returned home. …

While it is obvious, the amount of time a child spends with an adult will enhance the relationship and bonding, some biological parents whose case goal is reunification report visits with their children have been reduced. The parents have been told this was due to the lack of available DCBS staff to supervise the visit. Some parents suggested alternatives to DCBS staff supervising the visits, and one parent was advised by the court that she could have visits supervised by a clergy member. When her clergy attended the case-planning meeting, he was told this was not possible and a DCBS staff member was required to supervise all visits.

Parental visitations were changed or cancelled without proper notice to the parents or foster parents. One father was ten minutes late to his scheduled visit and was told he was not permitted to visit with his child. As the father was walking across the parking lot, to enter his car to leave, his child rode by him in another vehicle. The worker had cancelled the visit, because the father was tardy even though both the father and child were present in the DCBS building.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is bragging about just attaining accreditation. Here's a recent case from that state.