In November 2018, the state reached an all-time high of around 10,000 children in its foster care system.

However, this year Kentucky has been able to find hope in the federally funded bipartisan initiative, the Family First Prevention Services Act. The act was passed on a national level in February 2018 and drew the state’s attention shortly after.

The Family First Act was created in efforts to relieve the nation’s crowded foster-care systems and to strengthen children and their families.

The act supports prevention services, provides support for kinship (relative) caregivers, establishes requirements for placement in residential treatment programs, improves quality and oversight of services, and improves services to older youth who age out of the system.

States will be required to allocate some of their funds to the initiative, but will be federally reimbursed for a large amount of their expenditures as long as the money has been used for well-supported evidence-based programs.

These measures may be especially beneficial to Kentucky, a state that experienced the large spike in foster care children and has the highest rate of child abuse and neglect in the nation.

In fact, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) and Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) took notice of the importance of this act and committed to Kentucky being one of the first states to implement it.

Each state is required to submit a “prevention plan” to the federal government in order to move on with Family First. Kentucky submitted their plan in August, but was asked to make minor adjustments to align with federal regulations and requirements. The revised version is now in the approval process.

Senior Policy Director at Kentucky Youth Advocates Jessie Whitish believes that the implementation of Family First will be crucial to the success of many of Kentucky’s children and their families.

“What we know is that most parents don’t wake up with the intention of abusing or neglecting their kids,'' she said. Whitish explained that treatable issues such as substance abuse, stress and other mental health factors, left unresolved, are often a huge factor in someone’s poor parenting.

Whitish has faith in Family First’s ability to resolve that by building those individuals back up and maintaining support as a child transitions back into the home. Whitish says it also ensures that those who are unable to go back to their biological parents will receive access and placement in family based settings and supports.

“Kids need a connection to families. Kids need a connection to their parents. Kids need a connection to a loving adult. Anytime we disrupt those relationships, it creates a trauma for a child,” she said.

Whitish encouraged everyone in the community to play a part in ensuring that these connections are promoted in a child’s life. She reminded everyone to contact their state legislators and officials to let them know that they want this to be a priority in the budget for our state.

She said constitutes should explain to their legislators that there will be initial costs, but they will eventually pay for themselves and will help the lives of our most vulnerable Kentuckians.

The Kentucky Youth Advocates has also released a toolkit that provides more information on the initiative, and gives helpful advice on how to advocate for its implementation. To find it, go to kyyouth.org/family-first/

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