Kentucky seeking more diversity in adoptive families
Posted June 19
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky child welfare officials are trying to convince more black families to adopt as part of a strategy to find homes for an influx of children in the state's care.
African-Americans make up 9 percent of the state's children, yet account for more than 18 percent of kids in state custody. State officials say black or biracial children are more likely to linger in the state system without finding an adoptive home, making it harder for them to succeed when they age out of the government's care.
State officials say part of the problem is a lack of foster care homes with black parents. Of the 1,960 foster care homes managed by the state, just 8 percent have an African-American parent. If private child agencies are included, that number increases to 13 percent.
To help fix the problem, Kentucky is one of five states that has partnered with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The nonprofit group has pledged to spend $4.15 million over the next 18 months to hire 71 people whose full time job will be to recruit adoptive families in Kentucky. Taxpayers are chipping in $275,000 for the partnership, which CEO Rita Soronen said could extend past the 18-month timeframe.
These will be full-time, state employees whose recruitment will have "an emphasis of, whenever possible, matching a minority child from the culture which he or she comes," Soronen said.
"It's not only about recruiting diversity, but in essence recruiting families and communities that already surround that child," she said.
Children with emotional and behavioral problems, complex medical issues and siblings also face challenges being adopted.
Kentucky adoptions have increased 61 percent since 2012, when just 700 children were adopted compared to more than 1,300 who were adopted last year. But during that same period, the number of children in the state's foster care system increased by nearly 2,000 kids to a total of 8,527.
As a result, state social workers have been overwhelmed with cases. Adria Johnson, commissioner of the state Department of Community Based Services, said the average caseload for a Kentucky social worker is 32. The industry standard is 18.
"The work is heavy," Johnson said. "I'm very concerned about toxic stress on my own staff and trauma they experience when conducting their own job."
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has vowed to reform the state system, naming Southern Baptist professor and adoptive father Daniel Dumas as the state's "adoption czar" and awarding him a $250,000 contract to assess the system and suggest reforms. He gave state social workers a 7.63 percent raise last year, but has said the state likely can't afford to spend more money because of a crushing public pension debt.
State lawmakers have appointed a bipartisan committee assigned to write a bill ahead of the 2018 legislative session. The group had its second meeting on Monday.