The1st meeting of the Subcommittee on Families and Children of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare was held on Wednesday, September 20, 2006, at 10:00 AM, in Room 169 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Tom Burch, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Guests: TJ Delahanty and Jeff Jones for the University of Kentucky; Chelsea Clarke for Kentucky Child Now; Barbara Donica for KDE; Michelle Sanborn for the Children's Alliance; Nancy McKee for Wyeth and Rich Seckel for Kentucky Legal Services.
LRC Staff: DeeAnn Mansfield, Ben Payne, and Cindy Smith.
The first item on the agenda was an update on the Adoption Task Force by Tom Emberton Jr., Commissioner, Department for Community Based Services. Commissioner Emberton said the 12 member Blue Ribbon Adoption Panel was appointed on July 7, 2006 to review the process and current practices that lead to termination of parental rights and adoption of children in the child welfare system. The Panel's two meetings have included a presentation on the legal process to permanency, an overview of federal legislation promoting safety and permanency outcomes for children, presentations from judges, and information on early brain development and attachment. Future meeting plans include hearing from guardian ad litems, parent advocates and developing recommendations for consideration by the 2007 General Assembly.
Senator Pendleton asked what is being done to make the adoption process easier in Kentucky. Commissioner Emberton said the charge of the Task Force is to review the process leading to termination of parental rights and adoption, to review the process and to determine if the system needs to be modified.
Representative Burch asked what was the number of children taken away due to their parent's lack of means of support. Commissioner Emberton said he does not have that number, but each case depends on the merits of each individual. A parent's lack of means of support is not a criteria for removing a child, as long as the child is in a safe environment.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation on Adoption Data by Race by Dr. Eugene Foster, Undersecretary for Children and Family Services. Dr. Foster presented information on adoptions and race in Kentucky. He indicated that data show that African American children in Kentucky are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system compared to white children by a factor of 2.5. This is a national problem and Kentucky is among the states with high, but not extreme disproportion. Kentucky recognized these problems early and has gained national attention for its leadership through its work with the Casey Foundation. After looking at the proportion of representation of children in Kentucky's system by race, Dr. Foster concluded that statewide, African American children are referred more often to Child Protective Services than the census suggests they should. Once investigated, African American cases are substantiated at a rate greater than their representation in the census. Even though African American children are rated lower on child risk assessments than white children, the rates of substantiations are much higher when compared to those of their white counterparts. In addition, the removal rate of African American children is greater even though the risk scores are lower than white children. Data also indicated that there is a higher rate of termination of parental rights among African American children when compared to whites, yet they are adopted at the same rate. Dr. Foster indicated that the cabinet is taking positive steps to address this problem including increasing cultural diversity training for social service workers, increasing community dialogue, and engaging parent advocates to help African American parents to navigate the child welfare system. He emphasized that this is not just a child welfare issue and that the cabinet is dedicated to making necessary institutional improvements to address racial disparity in child welfare.
Representative Owens stated that he was impressed with the efforts to eradicate disproporationality. Dr. Foster said the Cabinet is very committed to doing it correctly. He noted that it is not just a child welfare system issue, but also a huge issue in healthcare and the juvenile justice system.
Representative Brinkman asked if abuse is the basis for removal of a child from their home, or what the findings have to be. Dr. Foster said there are strict guidelines followed when the decisions are being made. He noted that the majority of the removals are due to neglect.
Representative Wuchner noted that there are cultural differences on discipline that could be seen as abuse or neglect by others . Dr. Foster said staff are being trained to look at the issues to have the ability to respond in the correct way.
Representative Burch asked if there are certain areas where more African American children are taken out of home more frequently than other areas. Dr. Foster said that Jefferson County statistics did not vary much from statewide statistics. The county-by-county statistics have not been looked at this year.
Representative Burch asked if adoption of children of other races are encouraged. Dr. Foster said they are allowed, but all decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and an effort is made to match children based on cultural appropriateness.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation on the Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Report by Jeff Jones, Assistant Research Professor, UK College of Public Health. Mr. Jones' presentation focused on obesity and drug data. He indicated that the data show that some of Kentucky's efforts are paying off. While there are still several areas of concern, health indicators for Kentucky's youth are improving particularly in tobacco use, although Kentucky is 4th in the nation for High School smoking. He noted that Kentucky has the highest percent of high school students that are obese in the country. Overall, 16 percent of Kentucky High School students and 17 percent of Middle School students have BMIs at the 95th percentile or higher. The data indicate that more children in Kentucky are becoming obese at increasingly younger ages. He also noted that Kentucky students get the least PE of any students in the nation, 25 percent of High School students in Kentucky get 60 minutes or more of PE per day compared to 54 percent in the nation. Sixty minutes per day is the recommended amount of physical activity. Only 30 percent of Kentucky High School students get 60 minutes per day for 5 or more days in a week of any physical activity compared to 36 percent nationally.
Senator Stine noted that there has been resistance against increasing PE requirements in schools and asked if there are any states that require PE through high school. Mr. Jones said he is not sure how many states have that requirement, but noted that North Carolina leads the country in physical education requirements, by requiring PE in 11 out of 12 years of school.
Representative Wuchner noted that exercise can be broken into segments during the school day. Other members agreed and noted that if there is a will, a way can be found to implement exercise into each school day.
The next item on the agenda was a progress report on the Kentucky Youth Development Coordinating Council by Tom Emberton Jr., Commissioner, Department for Community Based Services, and TJ Delahanty, Kentucky Youth Development Partnership, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Services, 4-H Youth Development Program. Commissioner Emberton said that the Kentucky Youth Development Coordinating Council was established by Senate Joint Resolution 184 of the 2006 General Assembly. The charge of the Council is to support the collaboration of existing youth services to increase the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of services, opportunities and supports for young people. At the first meeting of the Council on August 10, presentations were provided on the intent of the Resolution, the federal Shared Youth Vision Initiative and the KY Youth Policy Assessment. Council members also discussed existing collaborative efforts within their agencies. Commissioner Emberton noted that T.J. Delahanty of the 4-H Youth Development Program is providing staff support to the Council. Through his efforts, the Council has identified all statewide programs that serve young people ages 8 to 24 years and developed an assessment tool to identify all interagency youth services collaborative activities. The next steps of the Council include conducting a statewide assessment of all youth collaborative activities, establishing the subcommittee framework of the council and developing a three year strategic plan.
The last item on the agenda was an update on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Reauthorization Legislation. The Commissioner discussed changes due to the interim TANF regulations. He indicated that Kentucky receives about $181 million dollars in federal TANF dollars and $71 million in state dollars. About $22 million of these dollars went into Protection and Permanency in 2005. The cabinet is working to meet the new work requirements of 50 percent for work activity participation. If the 50 percent is not met, a $10 million dollar fine could be incurred. The Commissioner indicated that Jefferson county is a particular challenge and that the cabinet has designated additional staff to help Jefferson County meet the work requirements. He also indicated that they are working one-on-one with those in educational activities because higher education will no longer count as a work activity.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:50 a.m.