(Grayson County, KY) – Child abuse in any form robs a child of their right to grow up in a safe, secure and nurturing environment. Beaten at the hands of a parent or loved one is a concept that many people cannot begin to fathom but happens on a daily basis across Kentucky.
The Commonwealth was ranked number 1 in a 2009 study for deaths related to child abuse. Each year in Kentucky, more than 72,000 reports are filed representing children being physically, mentally or sexually abused.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and it’s a fitting time to spotlight the Grayson County’s Division of Protection and Permanency. As the local Department of Community Based Services situate themselves into a new facility built on the William Thomason Byway this week, the team continues to work with 134 displaced children in Grayson County.
Supervisor Arleta Watkins is one of two supervisors for the area. Watkins was hired last year to help balance out ratio numbers of supervisors per social workers and the ratio of workers to children they work with. Watkins joined the position with already established Kathy Dow. The local branch has nine social workers, three social service clinicians and three social service aides.
The number of workers isn’t necessarily growing due to the number of cases growing in Grayson County. The county is still ranked number one in the state for displaced children per capita but Service Regional Supervisor Nelson Knight explained the numbers are actually down. In November 2009 the county had 210 children in Out Of Home Care (OOHC) and in March 2011 the number had dropped to 134.
Statistics for Grayson County show that only 48 of those 134 children in foster care are actually placed in Grayson County. This is blamed on a lack of foster families within Grayson County. Watkins said teenagers are the largest group of children who need to be placed and it’s the hardest age to find foster homes for. However, 79 of the children are 11 years old or under. 23 of the 134 children have a goal of adoption, and 83 of the children are in the process of getting to go home and be reunited. Watkins said this process is due to the collaborated efforts of community partners, foster families, the judicial system and their department working together to ensure rehabilitation processes and other necessary steps have been taken to reunite the families.
Actual bruised skin is a sight Watkins said she doesn’t see as much of anymore, not like she saw when she became a social worker years ago. She said the majority of the cases they see now are due to neglect created by drug abuse inside the home. Meth is an increasing monster that is forcing children to foster care but surprisingly, or not, Watkins said the climbing problem is prescription abuse. She said in her last year in Grayson County she had seen a large increase in this drug abuse forcing children out of their own homes.
The increase in drug abuse cases may not be an indicator that more people are addicted, according to Watkins, but possibly could be due to the communitywide education process which increases cases being reported. The local school systems have brought attention to child abuse in different ways. The GCMS Gate students tied blue ribbons in the trees last April to bring awareness to the large number of children in OOHC; one ribbon for each child. This year Fay Critchelow has spear headed the attention getting campaign by placing blue pinwheels in the yard of H.W. Wilkey Elementary and GCMS. “Pinwheels for Prevention” is what the sign says; one pinwheel per child who has suffered abuse or neglect.
The average length in Out Of Home Care is 22 months for 0 – 11 year olds and 28 months for ages 12 +.
If you would like to help the Division of Protection and Permanency but are unable to become a foster parent, Watkins said gas cards will be greatly appreciated. She said the families are usually working with “tight budgets.” She explained many of these parents are also driving to their rehabilitation meetings and that extra mileage chews into their gas budget and leaves nothing in excess for their visitation days with their children. You can drop the gas cards off at the Department of Community Based Service building located at 2500 William Thomason Byway Leitchfield.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, the process takes approximately six months to complete. There is a 10 week course involved, background checks, home inspections and other steps to ensure the safety of the child. Watkins said a person interested can contact the Elizabethtown Recruitment and Certification Unit or you can call the local office at (270) 259-3184.
“Abuse is truly the most bitter form of betrayal at the hands of an adult and we must stand up and demand that it must stop!” said Kenny Williams, director of Sunrise’s Western Kentucky Foster Care Region. “We have a responsibility to every child whether they are our own flesh and blood or not.” The Sunrise’s Children’s Services has operated for 142 years with a mission to care for children victimized by abuse. Sunrise President and CEO Bill Smithwick said “A significant change in recent years is our proactive involvement with families in the prevention of abuse and neglect. In some cases, through counseling centers and in-home services, we are successful in assisting families to keep their family unit together rather than having the children removed from their homes.”
The facility is located at Mt. Washington, Kentucky and is one of many places of its kind. Working in large part from donations, Sunrise has a regional office located at 333 West Dixie Ave. Elizabethtown, KY. You can contact their office at 1-800-952-3724 for more information on the family foster care services they offer for Grayson County.
To report suspected child abuse, neglect or dependency, you can call the 24 hour hotline at 1-800-752-6200 or the Grayson County DCBS at (270) 259-3184.