FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Several foster parents appeared before the General Assembly’s Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee on Monday to complain about their treatment by both private agencies and social workers with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Among them was Kennedy Robertson of Campbellsville, who fostered four children and said she was even required to have her father serve as a supervisor of her and her husband when she complained.
“Agencies need to be held responsible,” she said. “They need to be audited frequently. They need to be more concerned about the safety and well-being of the kids, and less about the pay-out. They need to be held accountable and not be allowed to retaliate against families when they fight back and push for more.”
Robertson also said she was lied to when told the four had no behavioral difficulties because they manifested themselves almost immediately.
“I talk to many foster families in very similar situations, all of whom are too scared to submit their grievances, for fear of retaliation and loss of their foster children,” she testified. “Foster parents need protective rights. There is no due process; we are considered guilty until proven innocent.”
Kelly Rodman with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services did not testify but was watching the meeting. “We will be more than glad to answer any questions. I have been listening, I have been taking notes,” she said. “We will see what we can do about working with this family and others. It is not easy coming to the table to bring their personal stories."
Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, had a message for those who testified. “I would like to ask the presenters, from whom we’ve heard today, to provide a list of the social workers that we’ve heard about today. I think we should take a look at those particular social workers and find out if there are any other stories that are like this.”
Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, added, “We should do a deeper dive into this, and keep in mind that we should get the other side of the story.”
Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, an adoptive parent and co-chair of the committee, agreed with Thomas that they should hear from both sides, “I will say that I know several social workers in the Cabinet, and I have worked very closely with some of them. I still believe the majority of the workers are truly doing what is best for children.
“However, I believe there are issues of retaliation in the Cabinet. I receive emails and messages, almost on a daily basis, and I think it is worth looking into. It doesn’t matter which administration is in charge. I can tell you that we’ve had those issues in the past and it doesn’t matter who the secretary or the commissioner is, because the issues we have been talking about are embedded deeply in the bureaucracy of the Cabinet."
Meade says he is in the process of coming up with legislation that deals with retaliation for the 2021 legislative session. “There will be some severe consequences in that for retaliation. I don’t believe that it is widespread, but I believe there is the potential for it. If there is none, then there is nothing to worry about. If there is, then as I said, there will be some severe consequences for retaliation within the Cabinet.”
Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, added, “We really need to do a root cause analysis of why we are in the situation in the first place, and what measures do we want/need to take to address each one of the problems we talked about.”
This was the last meeting of the committee before the 2021 General Assembly convenes in January.
The panel was formed after legislation was adopted in 2018 on foster care and adoption reform in Kentucky.