Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education of the Interim Joint Committee on Education was held on Tuesday, August 13, 2012, at 10:00 AM, in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Ted Edmonds, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Vernie McGaha, Co-Chair; Representative Ted Edmonds, Co-Chair; Senators David Givens, Denise Harper Angel, Jack Westwood, and Ken Winters; Representatives Linda Belcher, Regina Petrey Bunch, John "Bam" Carney, Hubert Collins, Derrick Graham, Marie Rader, Bart Rowland, Wilson Stone.
Guests: Clyde Caudill, Jefferson County Public Schools and Kathy Adams, Children’s Alliance.
Educational Well-Being of Children in Foster Care
Jim Grace, Assistant Director, Division of Protection and Permanency, Cabinet for Health and Family Services, discussed the different issues relating to the educational needs of children in foster care. Mr. Grace said that there are barriers to providing the appropriate educational well-being supports for children in foster care. Many of foster youth have been traumatized and are not prepared to deal with an educational setting at times because of the behavioral and psychological issues they have at that moment. Mr. Grace stated that there are many challenges in supporting these children.
Mr. Grace said that Kentucky has over 6,900 children in the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. These children have been abused or neglected by their parents, and the Cabinet has taken custody through the court to try to provide safety and permanency for them. Several years ago the federal government created child and family services reviews to be completed for each state, and Kentucky has been through two of them. The reviews examine different outcomes for safety, permanency, and wellbeing. Educational wellbeing is specifically reviewed.
Mr. Grace stated that in Kentucky’s challenges deal with resources that are geographically available for children who need to be placed away from their home. He feels confident that the Cabinet has a thorough array of services for children but knows there are some places where additional resources are needed to support foster children. Those services have a large impact on educational stability because not all foster children will get to stay in their home county. This could cause a potential disruption for that child relating to their educational stability. The Cabinet works with the court system and education agencies to make it as stable as possible for any child coming into foster care.
Mr. Grace said it is very important to look at the case planning the staff does for children and their families, including very specific provisions relating to the educational needs for children. Staff measure and monitor how children are moving back and forth in school systems and make sure credits are transferring appropriately and records are shared appropriately and timely. These are expectations of new federal legislation.
Mr. Grace said last year the Cabinet was able to send some child welfare representatives, court representatives, and Department of Education representatives to a conference in Washington, D.C. for structural guidance on how to create and maintain expectations relating to fostering connections. The purpose of the meeting was to encourage participation and enhance existing cross-system efforts to address the educational stability of the children in foster care.
Mr. Grace stated that recent National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections studies deal with the issues of barriers and challenges of children who are in child welfare programs and need educational stability. There was a specific educational stability study that looked at all the legal mandates that can inadvertently cause challenges for the Cabinet. The center looked at child welfare agencies to make sure they have policies in place and are following the policies in practice, which are two distinct and important pieces in their work. The study looked at the proximity and appropriateness of the educational setting when the Cabinet is making decisions about foster care placements. This had not been the Cabinet’s initial consideration previously. In the past, the Cabinet had to find what placements were available for a child regardless of the educational setting. The Cabinet tries to keep the children in the same school if possible and develop education plans, case plans, and transition planning. The biggest challenges and issues in keeping a child in the same school are locating an appropriate and safe foster care placement and transportation.
Mr. Grace discussed Kentucky’s specific action plan relating to the conference and stated some of the short-term goals that deal with the plan. The first short-term goal is to develop a compliance protocol for foster children to ensure seamless, timely transition between schools and districts. The second short-term goal is to partner with the Kentucky Educational Collaboration for State Agency Children (KECSAC) to further develop and expand the “Where the Heart Is” program.
Denise Wilder, Policy Analyst, Out of Home Care Branch, said “Where the Heart Is” was developed in 2007 as part of a research study with KECSAC, Eastern Kentucky University, the Department of Education, and the Department of Occupational Therapy. “Where the Heart Is” has developed a logo for children to recognize in schools so the children will know there is a caring individual in the school. This person will help them answer questions about their school, help them get their credits and records transferred, and help them with any peer and behavioral problems they face in the school.
Mr. Grace stated there are specific requirements in the Cabinet’s policy related to educational needs for children. The Cabinet staff tries to work with school personnel and foster parents to ensure that the child can remain in the same school setting. The Cabinet tries to make sure that the child is enrolled within three working days of the child’s placement so there is not a long break when the child is not in school. The Cabinet also wants to make sure that the child is eligible for and pursuing a GED if not in the school system, or that an alternate education plan has been recommended by the child’s home school and approved by the court.
Mr. Grace said the Cabinet has very specific provisions for children under age five. Staff will make referrals to Early Start or other different programs for a child to make sure that the needs are being met. Developmental screenings are completed within 30 days. An educational assessment is completed and submitted to the court within 60 days.
Jennie Wilson, Out of Home Care Branch, spoke about tuition waivers and the categories of youth that are eligible for these waivers. Kentucky has an opportunity for youth who were adopted or in foster care to receive a waiver of their educational fees for college. Her particular branch is responsible for determining eligibility for those waivers.
Mr. Grace said youth are eligible to receive the Education Training Voucher (ETV) funding if they are 18 to 21 years old and enrolled in at least six credit hours at a postsecondary institution or in a job training program. If participants remain in good standing, they may continue the ETV program until age 23.
Representative Collins noted that it can sometimes be more damaging for foster children to go back to their original home setting. Discipline in the original home setting might not be as good, and the children might not be supervised as well. Family Resource Centers are a tremendous help with foster children.
In response to Representative Stone’s questions regarding average length of stay for a child in foster care and engaging other students in helping foster students make the transition of switching schools, Mr. Grace said the information changes from month to month but that he would obtain it. Mr. Grace noted that it would be a great idea to have other students involved with the transition of foster students.
In response to Representative Belcher’s questions regarding a breakdown of the number of foster children per county and transitional help, Mr. Grace said he would get those numbers for each county. Ms. Wilson said federal legislation requires transitional plans, and they are required to do those six months prior to the children actually leaving foster care.
In response to Senator Westwood’s questions regarding fostering connections, federal law requiring completion of secondary education, and children in foster care being considered homeless, Mr. Grace said it is not a perfect system, but the Cabinet is working on the action plans involving child welfare, the schools, and the courts. Tracy Herman, Department of Education, explained that the definition of homeless includes those children waiting for foster placement.
In response to Senator McGaha’s questions regarding the Kentucky child welfare data from the Power Point presentation, Mr. Grace said the figures for the number of investigations and substantiations are for the last fiscal year, and the total number of children in foster care is from a specific point in time.
In response to Representative Rader’s questions for comparisons with other states, Mr. Grace said there are a number of states around Kentucky that have reduced the foster care population significantly over the past few years. He noted it is important to look at the re-entry rate instead of just the total number of foster children in other states. He also stated that a significant number of the cases are drug related.
In response to Representative Carney’s question regarding who determines the goal of adoption, Mr. Grace said the court determines the goal of adoption.
Approval of the June 11, 2012, Minutes
Upon motion from Senator Westwood, seconded by Representative Carney, the minutes were approved by voice vote.
Real Life Perspective of Kentucky’s Foster Care System
Patrick Yewell, Executive Officer, Department of Family and Juvenile Justice Services, Administrative Office of the Courts, discussed his first-hand experience with the foster care system. He oversees all family and juvenile programs in the state of Kentucky for the court systems and has been part of the foster care system for six decades. He stated that in the 1960s, he spent time in foster care; in the 1970s, he became an adopted child; in the 1980s, he began his college career; and following college, he started his career with the Department of Community Based Services investigating child abuse.
Mr. Yewell said that while in foster care he remembered having a heightened fear and sadness because he did not know what was next. He was from a sibling group of nine and he lost a brother, a niece, and a foster brother due to abuse. His parents met at a mental hospital, and he has four sisters who have been institutionalized because of mental health issues. His mother suffered from mental health issues all of her life and his father, who also had mental health issues, was extremely abusive. His story is no different than anybody else’s foster care story. Since he was in foster care, some things have gotten a better and some things have not. Some of the same issues he sees now are some of the same issues he saw in the 1980s.
Mr. Yewell stated that school was not very easy for him and his siblings. He was not allowed to go to kindergarten because he was in foster care. At that time, Kentucky did not require kindergarten. Foster children were treated very similar to the students with handicaps. His sister had an extremely difficult time in school. She dropped out three months before graduation because she was being severely bullied.
Mr. Yewell stated that he has been blessed and thought he was the least likely person to go to college. Only 50 percent of children who enter foster care graduate from high school, and only ten percent go to college. He was not prepared when he went to college. He struggled but was able to obtain his graduate degree. He was inducted into his college’s Hall of Fame.
Representative Belcher said she appreciates Mr. Yewell’s story and that he is a positive role model for foster youths.
Responding to Representative Collins’ question regarding the statistics dealing with foster children going to college, Mr. Yewell said he thinks the statistics are related to treatment and treatment dollars. Mr. Grace said that the resources are usually inadequate to meet the huge need.
Responding to Representative Graham’s question regarding a foster child’s say in staying with the foster family or going back to the biological family, Mr. Grace said age has a lot to do with it. Children are encouraged to be involved with that decision when they have the capacity to make those decisions. Mr. Yewell stated that most of the time the foster child will find his or her way back home.
Representative Edmonds thanked the guests for their presentations. With no further business before the committee, the meeting adjourned at 11:48 a.m.