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The rate of Kentucky youth in foster care has hit a record high according to a new report released Tuesday. The 2019 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book found that about 47 of every 1,000 Kentucky youth under seventeen were in foster care between 2016 and 2018. Officials said the data, which reviews 17 measures of children’s well-being, highlights ongoing needs for Kentucky youth that legislators can help to address.

The report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Kentucky Youth Advocates analyzes health, economic security and other measures for youth to spotlight what Kentucky and its counties can improve on. In addition to Kentucky’s dismal rate of youth in foster care, the percentage of youth exiting foster care to be reunified with their parent or guardian decreased.

Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks said African American youth make up an “unethical racial disproportionality within the child welfare system;” black children comprise 9 percent of Kentucky’s child population yet make up 18 percent of the state’s foster care population. The report said socioeconomic status, family structure, bias and structural inequities factor into that imbalance. 

Another factor is the state’s opioid crisis and Kentucky’s response, according to Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams.

“We thought that the best course of action was to remove children from their homes,” Raque Adams said. “What the data has shown us is: Let’s focus on keeping that family intact and helping them survive as a unit.”

Republican Senator Julie Raque AdamsKyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams

Jefferson County mirrored the state’s foster youth trends. The rate of Jefferson County youth under 17 in foster care increased from 25 per 1,000 in 2011-2013 to 33.6 per 1,000 in 2016-2018. The percentage of youth exiting foster care into reunification decreased from 36 percent in 2011-2013 to 32 percent in 2016-2018. 

Though foster care trends were bleak, some other trends were positive:

  • Kentucky and Jefferson County both decreased the number of children living below 100 percent of the federal poverty line; 
  • A higher percentage of high school students are graduating on time;
  • The state and county reported lower rates of teen births to females between the ages of 15 and 19;
  • The rate of youth incarcerated in the juvenile justice system decreased.

Jefferson County differed from the commonwealth in some cases; reporting a slight decrease in the percentage of eight grade students who are proficient in math as Kentucky’s percentage increased. The county also saw a decrease in the percentage of children living in deep poverty (below 50 percent of the poverty level) as Kentucky’s rate went unchanged.

Raque Adams said she will lobby for funding to address child welfare when the General Assembly meets in January. She expects the legislature will have the appetite to address the topic because it could create stronger families while using state dollars more efficiently.

“Tearing [families] apart and putting children in various places and incarcerating parents — the dollars are better spent trying to keep that unit intact,” Raque Adams said. “It’s a better use of taxpayer dollars, it’s a better outcome for the family and I think that’s the path that we need to go down so that we can have stronger families.”

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.