In Kentucky, 10,000 children are in the foster care system. That’s an all-time high in the state and the rate of children entering out-of-home care has increased in 93 counties over the past five years, according to the KIDS COUNT Data Center.
This spring and summer, Kentucky Youth Advocates, a Louisville-based advocacy organization for policies that provide children opportunities for a brighter future worked to address the issue. The group hosted several community conversations to discuss data-driven, solution-focused research on foster care and family well-being across the Bluegrass State.
UnitedHealthcare helped support the community conversations by Kentucky Youth Advocates with an initial $35,000 grant. Participants used the county-level data on child and family well-being to discuss the impact of children in out-of-home care settings in Covington, Glasgow, Hartford, Manchester and Paducah. UnitedHealthcare provided $10,000 for each of the five community conversations that took place and pledged to match grant funds up to $10,000 for additional community conversation events in Boyle, Elliot and Jefferson counties.
Keith Mason, director of advocacy and engagement, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, and Patricia Tennen, chief officer of strategic initiatives, Kentucky Youth Advocates, worked with local leaders to plan the events and facilitate each community conversation. Each session focused on driving stakeholders to identify barriers and community solutions to achieve the goal of a 25 percent reduction for out-of-home-care by 2025.
“We often emphasize that what gets measured can change, and separating children from their parents causes lasting trauma. Local communities, state agencies and nonprofit partners play an important role in strengthening families and keeping kids in their homes safely,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “Kids can thrive when they have the support of a stable, loving family and parents can best care for their families with the support of a strong community. When community leaders come together for a common goal of keeping kids safe and strengthening families, they can make a measurable impact for kids.”
The Kentucky Department for Community Based Services joined each of the community conversations to discuss their efforts to safely reduce the number of children entering foster care and improve the timeliness of the child achieving a permanent home. The department also works to seek solutions if the child is removed from their home, whether that be reunification with their parents or through adoptions, and reduce the caseloads of caseworkers to better serve families in need.
“Out-of-home care remains high in Kentucky, and children in foster care tend to have greater physical and behavioral health needs than other children,” said Amy Johnston, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Kentucky. “Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and to help make the health system work better for everyone, which includes foster care. We are proud to support the Kentucky Youth Advocates’ mission to give children the best opportunity for a brighter future and partner with them on statewide initiatives including KIDS COUNT.”
The grant is part of UnitedHealthcare’s Empowering Health commitment focused on expanding access to care and addressing the social determinants of health for people in underserved communities.