In Conversation

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Advocates on WFPL’s In Conversation panel said Kentucky’s child welfare system needs more support from lawmakers in order to meet the growing needs of young people.

Guests included:

  • Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks
  • Republican state Senator Julie Raque Adams
  • Voices of the Commonwealth member Christopher Hagans 
In Conversation Host Rick Howlett (left), Kentucky Youth Advocates' Executive Director Terry Brooks (center), Voices of the Commonwealth member Christopher Hagans (right)Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

In Conversation Host Rick Howlett (left), Kentucky Youth Advocates’ Executive Director Terry Brooks (center), Voices of the Commonwealth member Christopher Hagans (right)

A report released in November by the nonprofit Kentucky Youth Advocates found the rate of youth entering the foster care system has grown since 2011, and fewer of them are being reunited with their parents or guardians. Kentucky Youth Advocates’ Executive Director Terry Brooks said the number of foster youth in Kentucky has increased due to factors like poverty, the opioid epidemic and parents being incarcerated.

“Unfortunately, we have fertile ground to grow numbers in the child welfare system,” Brooks said. “Sometime[s] folks think of the child welfare system as impacting only a few isolated, unusual cases. The reality is, unfortunately, it impacts so many more young people.”

Christopher Hagans is one of those young people. Hagans grew up in-and-out of foster care before eventually aging out of the system. Now he works as a foster youth advocate with Voices of the Commonwealth, and said some areas in the state’s child welfare system must improve.

“[We should improve] the pre-independent living agencies. I would also like to see an improvement in the efforts to pay attention to all foster youth,” Hagans said. “What it feels like is that the better you are [behaviorally], the more neglect you experience from the state.”

Hagans explained that state programs prioritize foster youth with severe behavioral issues, leaving behind others who could benefit from them.

Republican state Senator Julie Raque Adams said lawmakers can support the system with more funding in the upcoming legislative session. That may be a tough sell in the upcoming session: outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration says the state could face a $1.1 billion budget shortfall amid needs from its underfunded pension system, but Raque Adams said funding child welfare would save money over time.

“Spending money on the front end saves a whole heck of a lot of tax-payer money on the back end because you fix it early on,” Raque Adams said. “It’s just a smart way to budget.”

Raque Adams said legislators have made progress addressing child welfare, and she wants to continue that progress in the 2020 legislative session.

Join us next week for In Conversation as we talk about the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting’s new podcast, “Dig,” and the season-opening investigation, “Prosecution Declined.”