Health and Family Services Cabinet
Cabinet responds to internal adoption investigation report
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 11, 2007) – The Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) has issued a report detailing findings of its year-long investigation of child protective services in the former Lincoln Trail Region, particularly Hardin County.
CHFS Secretary Mark D. Birdwhistell said the report highlights several areas his staff is already addressing.
“We have reviewed the OIG’s report and are prepared to act on it,” he said. “I find it troubling, but not entirely surprising. It clearly points to long-standing problems with decentralized management that lacked appropriate checks and balances to protect the integrity of the system.”
Tom Emberton Jr., who served as DCBS commissioner before becoming undersecretary for Children and Family Services last November, and former Undersecretary Eugene Foster, Ed. D., requested the investigation after the National Institute on Children, Youth and Families, Inc. and the Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) issued a report in January 2006 criticizing the child welfare system and the adoption process in Lincoln Trail and across the state.
The 61-page report is a summary of the OIG investigation and lists several conclusions.
Several instances of false documentation and dishonesty by staff, including false signatures and omission or supplementation of case records, have been reported to the Hardin County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The OIG found several cases of unprofessional conduct by staff and supervisors. According to the report, regional managers abused their power, neglected to follow the chain of command and stripped supervisors of their authority, including case review. Some caseworkers exuded an attitude of superiority with clients and held birth parents to higher, often difficult to meet standards when determining whether to recommend a child’s parental rights be terminated, the report said.
The report does not substantiate allegations in the KYA report that Lincoln Trail staff expedited foster children’s termination of parental rights to speed up certain adoptions.
The OIG found that the problems addressed in the report were exacerbated by the fact that DCBS’ regional approach was “highly decentralized under the previous administration,” the report reads.
Emberton said he and his leadership team began efforts to reorganize the department in 2005 because of inefficient management structure.
“We responded quickly to the allegations in the KYA report by calling for this inquiry, but we had also already begun addressing process needs we discovered through our own departmental assessments,” he said. “We saw the inconsistencies in staffing levels and in management style.
“We’ve been working for almost two years to develop a more organized structure and to ensure our best practice policy model is implemented across the state.”
DCBS was realigned last September, and 16 regions were combined into nine. Lincoln Trail joined with a neighboring region to form the 17-county Salt River Trail Region.
The reorganization allows for more accountability by enhancing supervision, requiring more supervisory training, giving staff greater access to front-line supervisors and providing more support from the central office.
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of our staff do a tremendous job and are dedicated to their work,” Emberton said.
The cabinet has included the child welfare community and the public in its own examination of state adoption policy. Last July, Birdwhistell appointed a diverse 12-member blue ribbon panel to explore the system. The panel, which Birdwhistell chairs, has heard comments for procedural changes from parents, lawmakers, judges and advocates and intends to propose legislation to the 2007 General Assembly.
“Many of the issues and recommendations in this report mirror what we have learned through the blue ribbon panel,” Birdwhistell said. “As we have discussed through the panel, birth parents are not always adequately informed about the process and consequences. This validates our efforts to improve the support parents receive.”
DCBS continues to utilize Foster Care Review Boards, which are managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts, to provide a system of checks and balances to ensure foster children’s best interests are being served. Cabinet staff members may anonymously voice their concerns about an adoption custody decision to central office administrators, who determine if any action is needed.
The report also points to several positive initiatives the cabinet has begun, including the reorganization, Jefferson County’s Parent Advocate Program and the enhanced oversight of protective services.
Among the 17 recommendations listed in the report are a proposal to open court proceedings for terminations of parental rights, implementation of inspection teams who would make unannounced visits to DCBS offices, and central office review of every case that includes a recommendation for termination of parental rights.
The cabinet is already addressing some of the recommended actions, including expanding the Parent Advocate Program, enhancing training for supervisors and working more closely with the Office of the Ombudsman on matters of complaint.
Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III initiated the investigation on Jan. 9, 2006. Three OIG investigators coordinated the investigation, which included interviews with more than 140 people, including staff, clients, complainants, partners and advocates.
“Our investigators worked diligently to ensure the allegations were fully and thoroughly investigated. We believe the recommendations we have made will have a positive impact on both the cabinet and the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Benvenuti said. “This would not have been possible without full cooperation from several DCBS staff, who in the past were fearful of speaking out.”
The report is online at http://chfs.ky.gov/oig/.
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