HAZARD — The rapidly growing drug and unemployment problem plaguing Eastern Kentucky has had countless negative effects on the region. One of the most lasting has been on the younger generations as many children are being displaced from their homes and families due to neglect and drug addiction.
In August, almost 7,000 children were listed as being placed in out-of-home care in Kentucky. This number continues to grow as the state’s drug addiction rates grow.
Despite relatively lower population numbers than other areas of the state, the Eastern Mountain Region, which includes Perry, Knott, Breathitt and 10 other Eastern Kentucky counties, maintains high numbers of children being taken from homes. In August, 444 children were listed in out-of-home care. Of that number, many are placed in a family setting, while others are in institutionalized homes.
Chris Groeber worked as a consultant for the Department of Child Welfare for many years before starting a foster care and adoption agency called Key Assets Kentucky. The agency is contracted by the state to help find homes for some of the hardest to place children. Groeber was a foster parent for about a decade and has an understanding of the difficulties facing many of these children.
Statistics from the International Center for Research and Innovation in Fostering show that life for children who have been in foster care can be grim. One in four children leaving foster care will end up in jail within two years. Girls in foster care are six times more likely to become pregnant before the age of 21 than girls raised in families. Half of the children who have been in foster care will experience homelessness at some point in their lives.
While most of the issues leading to these unfortunate outcomes came before entering foster care, such as emotional and physical abuse or drug dependency, Groeber believes that being put into a loving home and community can help the healing process.
Key Assets works on a model of an international organization called Core Assets that seeks to place children in local homes to try to keep students in their community of people.
“Imagine any one of us and how important our community is to us, and the first thing that often happens to these kids is they get removed from their family,” said Groeber, adding that he found out about Core Assets while working as a consultant for the state of Kentucky.
“They were talking about keeping kids in the outback in Australia with aboriginal families,” said Groeber. “They were talking about keeping kids in the Arctic Circle with Inuit families, and I thought we are exporting kids out of Kentucky because we don’t have placements for them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep kids from Eastern Kentucky in Eastern Kentucky?”
He founded Key Assets Kentucky where they work on good placements so that children have a more consistent home while in the foster care system. They work to make the first home placement the only home placement.
“Key Assets works to get children into homes and families that are compatible,” said Groeber.
The organization was started just over a year ago, but is relatively new to Perry County. They are looking to find qualified loving parents willing to take in kids locally.
“We look for ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” said Groeber.
Groeber said being a foster parent was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of his life. “My wife and I were foster parents,” he said. “We were foster parents for about 10 years, and you think you can never do it but you do, and then you do it the next day and pretty soon you get pretty good at it.”
For more information of becoming a foster parent or statistics on foster parenting you can visit www.KeyAssetsKentucky.com.