Schooldistrictscanhelp.aspxThe risk factors identified by Child Protective Services caseworkers offer some possible explanations for the increase: income issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental and physical health issues. “And approximately three-fourths of our families have had two or more of these risk factors,” Weider said (see chart at right).
Income is the greatest risk factor, Weider said, pointing to the 2014 America’s Health Rankings report showing that the percentage of children living in poverty in Kentucky in the last two years rose from 23.3 percent to 31.8 percent. The state is ranked 50th nationally for the number of children living in poverty, she said.
Clay County’s Allen said she is concerned because many of the foster children in her district are from more urban areas and are having a hard time adjusting because of that. “You take a child who has been raised in an urban environment and you plop them down in the middle of rural eastern Kentucky, not only are you dealing with the social issues of just getting used to school, there’s a cultural issue, too,” she said.
Diane Underwood, DCBS adoption services manager, acknowledged those concerns. “Sometimes they’re the only minority children in the area, or close to it,” she added.
DCBS tries to place children in their home community, where they can stay in the school they have been attending. That isn’t always possible, Underwood said, since a child’s specific needs, such as medical or behavioral, also must be factored in. The department’s ultimate goal is to reunite the child with his or her family if possible.
Weider said the state is making an effort to shift children from group homes to individual foster homes, adding, “We are always trying to move children into the least restrictive environment.”
Cases of sketchy education records are not the only issues related to the transient nature of child placement. That transience also creates other difficulties, said Ashland Independent Schools Special Education Director Lisa Henson.
“The better you know a child and are able to form those connections and bonds with the family, the better you’re able to serve the child,” she said. “And a lot of times children who are more transient, they’re not anywhere long enough for you to get a good evaluation, get good data on their progress. So instead of putting down those educational roots, if you will, every place you go, you’ve got to try to grow those roots. And that’s hard.”
In addition to transition issues related to relocation, many foster children are classified as special needs students, and may also require counseling and similar services, said Jennifer Simmons Whitt, pupil personnel and special education director for Elliott County Schools. The district works with local mental health services providers, including one with a counselor that goes into their schools. Many times abuse is at the root of their removal from home, she noted.
“And this has resulted in an emotional problem that then results in a behavioral problem, and anger and violence that we then see in the classroom, that they’re taking it out on other children,” Whitt said. “Just occasionally you’ll see the opposite, where they’re very withdrawn.”
Henson, who said her district has not seen a big increase in the number of foster children, said the system is fortunate because the school board has funded not only social worker positions at the middle and high school, but also a district behavioral specialist. They work together, along with a guidance counselor.
“It has been an invaluable team in putting together plans to support children,” she said. “But those things take time.”