Volunteers needed to staff Kentucky’s citizen foster care review boards

Star-Telegram archives

Volunteers are needed in more than half of all 120 Kentucky counties to review cases of children in foster care, which number in the thousands.

Dozens of volunteers are needed in 67 counties to staff local Citizen Foster Care Review Boards, which were created in 1982 to review cases of every minor who is in foster care for abuse, neglect or dependency. Currently, 8,106 children and youth are in foster care across Kentucky because of one of those reasons, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Each county has at least one board, and counties with more children in out-of-home-care have more boards. Fayette County, which has roughly 500 minors in state custody, has 15 foster care review boards.

The boards are tasked with reviewing each case in their county at least once every six months, and providing case findings and recommendations to judges overseeing those cases, said Steven Farr, chair of the Citizen Foster Care Review Board Executive Committee.

“We are an impartial set of eyes to provide information to (a judge) for some of the very important decisions they have to make related to these children’s cases,” Farr said.

Volunteers play a crucial role in helping to push these cases forward, either toward family reunification or helping children in state custody find permanent homes with adoptive families, he said. Farr said boards, in what are called “interested party reviews,” work closely with social workers, court-appointed advocates, biological parents, representatives from a residential facility or foster parents, and the child themselves, depending on their age.

“Our recommendations are very unique to each case,” he said. “We could recommend they move toward termination of parental rights and more toward adoption, or it could be just the opposite — that we believe the state is moving too quickly toward termination of parental rights.”

Last year, just over 750 volunteers conducted 21,376 reviews of 12,947 children, according the board’s 2022 annual report.

There are currently 700 volunteers on these boards statewide. While that may seem like a lot, Farr said, the volunteer base is not evenly distributed. For example, most counties in Central Kentucky have fully staffed boards (around a half dozen people is the ideal amount per board, Farr said), but most counties across Eastern Kentucky and large swaths of Western Kentucky lack enough volunteers. Filling in those case review gaps falls to other volunteers in different counties.

“If a board is struggling and does not have enough volunteers, volunteers from neighboring boards will assist,” said Jamie Neal, public information specialist with the AOC. “One of the impacts of not having an adequate number of volunteers is that (they) experience more stress and vicarious trauma in managing the caseloads, which often involve children who have endured extremely sad circumstances and tragedy.”

Volunteers have to be officially appointed by judges in the county where they’re serving. Each board meets virtually once per month, typically for a half day or a full day. Anybody in Kentucky over the age of 18 can volunteer in their county, and because the meetings are virtual, being a volunteer on multiple county boards is an option, Farr said.

Board diversity is key, he said, which is why people of all backgrounds are encouraged to volunteer.

Volunteers are needed in Anderson, Bath, Bell, Bourbon, Boyd, Bracken, Breathitt, Bullitt, Butler, Calloway, Campbell, Carroll, Carter, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Fulton, Grayson, Greenup, Hancock, Hardin, Harlan, Harrison, Hart, Hickman, Jackson, Jefferson, Jessamine, Johnson, Kenton, Knott, Knox, Larue, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, Livingston, Madison, Magoffin, Marshall, Martin, Mason, McCreary, McLean, Menifee, Muhlenberg, Nicholas, Ohio, Owen, Owsley, Pendleton, Perry, Pike, Powell, Robertson, Trigg, Warren, Wayne, Webster and Wolfe counties.

For more information on how to apply to be a volunteer, visit kcoj.info/CFCRB.