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67 Kentucky counties seek volunteers to review local foster care cases, recommend how to help kids

A child's hand rests in their father's hand.
Liane Metzler
/
Unsplash
Over 60 Kentucky counties, including Jefferson, are looking for volunteers who can help review the cases of children in foster care and make recommendations about the best course of action to support those kids.

Just over half of Kentucky’s 120 counties, including Jefferson, need people to join the state’s Citizen Foster Care Review Boards.

Over 700 people already serve on the citizen panels, which were established in the 1980s. Steven Farr is the state chair of the Kentucky Citizen Foster Care Review Boards’ executive committee.

They completed over 21,000 reviews of nearly 13,000 children during the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to a state report. The high caseloads are why more volunteers are needed.

“I’ve done a lot of volunteer work over the years. … But for me, this has just been the most fulfilling volunteer role that I’ve been in,” Farr said. “I get satisfaction out of having a small role in being able to make sure that children are getting the care they need.”

Each county has at least one board, while especially populous counties like Jefferson have more.

The boards make recommendations to judges about the best course of action to support each child who’s under the state’s care. A key goal is to reduce the amount of time kids spend in the foster care system.

The boards generally convene one weekday per month through virtual meetings, and they examine the foster care cases that are due for review that month.

Farr estimates that process can take between a half day to a full day.

“We interview the social worker, we interview foster parents, biological parents. For an older child, the child may be present,” he said. “So we are an extra set of eyes, if you will, so that that judge — who’s having to make sometimes-difficult decisions about what happens with a child and family — has more information and is more able to make the best decision.”

A review board may suggest the state provide additional services to a pair of parents to help them better advance toward the goal of reuniting with their child, for example. Or it may recommend, based on the circumstances, that the state seek a new adoptive family for a child.

The review boards were first established in 1982 and fall under the purview of Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts. That means they’re separate from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which runs the foster care system.

Farr said a lot of judges say the first thing they look at, when they check on a foster care case, is the local citizen review board’s report.

“Anybody else who’s involved is looking at it from their unique perspective. They’re the parent, they’re the foster parent, et cetera. And [judges] appreciate having that outside look that just gives them a bigger picture,” he said.

Volunteers to these review boards are appointed by a judge after completing a criminal background check and six hours of training.

Anyone interested in applying to join one of these boards can learn more about the process online.

Apart from Jefferson County, here are the other counties that need volunteers: Anderson, Bath, Bell, Bourbon, Boyd, Bracken, Breathitt, Bullitt, Butler, Calloway, Campbell, Carroll, Carter, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Fulton, Grayson, Greenup, Hancock, Hardin, Harlan, Harrison, Hart, Hickman, Jackson, Jessamine, Johnson, Kenton, Knott, Knox, Larue, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Magoffin, Marshall, Martin, Mason, McCreary, McLean, Menifee, Muhlenberg, Nicholas, Ohio, Owen, Owsley, Pendleton, Perry, Pike, Powell, Robertson, Trigg, Warren, Wayne, Webster and Wolfe.

Support for this story was provided in part by theJewish Heritage Fund.

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.