The state's child welfare system is struggling to keep pace with unprecedented levels of mental distress among families, according to a new report by Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Community Based Services, Marta Miranda-Straub, said frontline child protective services staff are working hard to keep kids safe, but noted her agency relies on teachers and childcare providers to help identify at-risk kids. With schools closed, there have been no extra sets of eyes.
Miranda-Straub also said access to quality childcare for working parents is a major concern.
"Parents need to go to work. And what are we going to do with those kids? Are they going to be put in unsafe places with people without background checks or maintain safety guidelines as recommended?" Miranda-Straub said. "So, that's what keeps me awake at night."
In 2019, the state's Department of Community Based Services received more than 130,000 calls related to suspected child abuse or neglect. More than 10,000 children in the Commonwealth are in foster care.
Norma Hatfield is raising her two grandchildren in Hardin County. She's also President of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky. She said while stimulus checks and food pantries have provided some support, kinship families are being pushed to the brink.
"But just imagine a grandmother or a grandfather, who was struggling before this, filing bankruptcy, selling their homes, their cars, everything they have, so that they can keep these kids out of foster care. And then you add COVID-9 on top," Hatfield said.
She added many caregivers are at risk for serious COVID-19 illness and reported being nervous about sending their kids to school.Shannon Moody, senior policy and advocacy director at Kentucky Youth Advocates, said young people who are engaged in the child welfare system are experiencing frustration, isolation, and anxiety about what comes next.
"There were young people turning age 21, who were worried about losing their housing that is supported by the child welfare system, they were worried about losing access to a lot of the supportive services that they can access until the age of 21 or a little bit later," Moody said.
She added that according to their survey, 88% of youth aging out of the child welfare system said they worried about having stable housing more than they did before the pandemic.
Among other solutions, the report calls for continued state investment in family preservation services as well as for retaining and recruiting frontline social workers.