State has fewer spots at facilities that care for children with emotional or psychiatric needs, threatening family breakups

Kentucky has “a shrinking number of spots at facilities that care for children, most in foster care. Financial strain is exacerbated by unprecedented staff shortages, including therapists, that leave facilities unable to operate at full capacity,” Deborah Yetter reports in her last story for the Louisville Courier Journal.

“Everybody has an empty bed or empty cottage but they can’t fill it,” Michelle Sanborn, president of Children’s Alliance, told Yetter. The group represents private agencies, many nonprofit or faith-based, that provide care for children with emotional or psychiatric needs. “Now with this workforce crisis, and increased need for therapeutic services, it’s really hitting a crisis point,” Sanborn said.

Yetter’s object example is Jacob White, 13, of Frankfort, who has cycled through foster homes, residential treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals for four years “as state social service workers sought treatment for his autism, psychiatric issues and sometimes, aggressive or violent behavior,” she reports. “The state says it is unable to find any place to accept Jacob and is seeking to move him from Peace Hospital, a Louisville psychiatric facility, to a Florida treatment center.”

Jacob’s mother, Cheryl White, is fighting the move in court, saying that if the state can’t find a place for him in Kentucky, it should let him come home. “If they succeed in taking him to Florida, I don’t know how to get him back,” White, a single mother who relinquished custody of Jacob to the state in 2018, told Yetter. “They’re going to make it so I can’t even visit my son.”

White, who works at a Frankfort store, told Yetter that she visits Jacob weekly but can’t afford flights and a Florida hotel, “and doesn’t trust her 15-year-old Toyota with 275,000 miles to make the trip,” Yetter reports. “The matter is scheduled to go before a Family Court judge in December.” A court-appointed special advocate for the child has recommended against sending him to Florida.

But in Kentucky, Sanborn told a legislative committee last month, Yetter reports, “administrative demands, stress and better-paying jobs elsewhere have caused workers to leave in droves, with employee turnover at a record 81 percent. . . . She said some private facilities the state depends on are at the brink of closing.”

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