As CJ spotlights child abuse and issues of substance abuse, state social-services staffers start new substance-abuse training

Banner photo for Courier-Journal series: grave of a Menifee County toddler who was raped and murdered by her mother’s boyfriend (Louisville Courier Journal photo by Matt Stone)
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On the same day the Louisville Courier Journal published a five-part series on child abuse and its link to substance abuse in Kentucky, the state’s social-services department announced that it has started training employees on how to better address substance-use disorder in families they serve.

Trainees in the Department for Community Based Services will learn about stigmas surrounding substance-use disorders, treatment and recovery, risk and safety assessment of those disorders, and how adverse childhood experiences or early trauma can negatively affect childhood and beyond, said a news release from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“Drug and alcohol addiction is a behavioral health condition, and we know that substance-use-disorder treatment works. Recovery is possible,” DCBS Commissioner Eric Clark said. “This training helps support our staff to remove any stigma and to better engage with families to recognize safety concerns and assess treatment options.”

The state reports that substance abuse contributed to 75% of all foster-care placements in the fiscal year that ended June 30; as of Aug. 4, it said, 9,660 children were in “out-of-home care” in Kentucky.

The training is part of the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, the cabinet’s overall effort to combat the opioid crisis. More broadly, the release says, it is part of a larger reform program that the state will launch in October called the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which will allow states to invest more money in prevention in hopes to head off the need for foster care.

The state already has two programs to help parents with addictions to keep their children out of foster care while keeping the child safe. However, Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) and Kentucky Strengthening Ties and Empowering Families (KSTEP) are offered only in certain counties. Clark said in the release that the state hopes to expand these programs.

The five-part Courier Journal series titled “Tortured and Abused,” written by Deborah Yetter, paints a grim picture of child abuse and its relationship to substance abuse in Kentucky. She reports that since 2017, seven Kentucky children have died from abuse.

“Kentucky has come in first or second each of the last six years for child mistreatment and has ranked among the 10 worst states for more than a decade,” she reports. Kentucky currently leads the nation.

The first of Yetter’s stories focuses on the issues of child abuse at large, the second on the state’s efforts to address the problem and the third focuses on how stress and high caseloads are causing social workers to quit faster than they can be replaced. The fourth tells the story of a foster child who was failed by the system, but was able to turn her life around and the fifth features a family recovery court in Jefferson County that is funded by private donors, who want to replicate it elsewhere.

Yetter notes that Clark recently told state legislators, “We have to own and acknowledge we lead the nation in child abuse in Kentucky, and we have to do better.”