For Too Many Children, There is No ‘Home Sweet Home’ for Holidays

“If you wanna be happy in a million ways;
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!”

These lyrics ring through my head this time of year because, it’s true, there is no place like being home with family and friends during the holiday season. But, I know that for too many kids across the commonwealth of Kentucky and elsewhere, home for the holidays has a much more profound and complex meaning.

Kentucky has the second-highest rate in the nation of substantiated victims of child abuse or neglect. We’re at an all-time high of kids living in foster care or residential treatment facilities. Nearly one in 10 Kentucky kids is being raised by relatives outside of the foster care system. And substance abuse is a direct contributor of more than half of cases where a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, especially for infants and toddlers.

When we see these numbers, we immediately want to go into crisis mode. As someone who has dedicated her life to helping children who’ve experienced some of the worst traumas, these numbers remind me that not only do we have an ethical obligation to ensure these kids succeed, we have a moral obligation to do what’s right for our most vulnerable Kentuckians. And as a partner in the Kosair Charities Face It Movement, we understand the importance of policy and practice level changes that can make a real difference for kids.

What if there were a way to prevent these traumas, support families and ensure kids have a home sweet home for the holidays?

With the passage of House Bill 1 and state budget investments earlier this year, Kentucky has shown its commitment to improving the child welfare system to promote better outcomes for children and strengthen families. And, because of recent federal legislation, the state has the opportunity to propel those efforts by taking advantage of federal funding on prevention and preservation through the Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First’s prevention focus presents Kentucky with a real opportunity to help families stay together and kids to have safe forever homes.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services has already made it clear — Kentucky will be among the first states to implement Family First. And thankfully, our state leaders are beginning to understand the important next steps needed to make Family First investments a reality in Kentucky.

There are five major pieces of Family First that emphasize keeping children safely with families:

• Reach vulnerable families early to help parents develop the skills needed to keep their kids safe.
• Expand programs that address both children’s safety in the home and the substance abuse treatment needs of their parents, such as the START program or K-STEP.
• Continue to prioritize and support kinship families by helping them understand all services available to them.
• Prioritize family connections when a child must be removed from his or her home, and support families on the path to a permanent home for a child.
• Support young adults leaving foster care as they transition to adulthood.

These policy priorities are absolutely imperative to ensuring that every Kentucky kid has a family. And yet, that commitment is not just about Frankfort — it is about local action, county courthouses, faith communities and business leaders as well. We at Centerstone recently had a chance to partner with United Healthcare and Kentucky Youth Advocates in a series of town hall meetings from Paducah to Manchester. Whether it was in Louisville or Glasgow or Covington, local community members were animated at what they could do to connect kids and families. Maybe it was an adult Sunday school class providing respite care to a kinship family down the street. Or, maybe it was law enforcement, the school system and that local community center thinking about better communications when a kid was caught in the crisis.

The real takeaway is that elected leaders and you and me all have roles to play when it comes to stemming this tide of children entering foster care. Together — and only together — can we ensure a family is there for every little boy and girl in Kentucky.

At Centerstone, we see how this seismic shift in resources will allow us to focus our services on reaching kids and families earlier in a more effective, efficient way. We understand that kids thrive when they have the support of a stable family and that families can best care for their little ones when they have a supportive community. Let’s all commit to helping our youngest Kentuckians be happy — and safe and healthy — in a million different ways.

Abbreial “Abby” Drane is the Regional Chief Executive Officer, Kentucky. Previously, she served as the Uspiritus President and CEO of Uspiritus where she lead the treatment, outcomes, regulations, human resources, financial and advancement programs helping vulnerable children in Kentucky.

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