LOUISVILLE, Ky. — State Child Protective Services wants to change the culture within its department and with how the public often views its workers after a tragedy.
One such tragedy happened just three weeks ago when the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services revealed that a child died while in foster care.
FOCUS’ John Charlton looked into that case and how the agency hopes to learn from it.
After submitting several Open Records Requests, we were able to confirm that the girl was indeed Demiyah White.
The investigation is ongoing, but agency documents show that Demiyah appears to have died from natural causes. The foster parent came to wake her up July 1, but she wouldn't wake up and had a weak pulse, according to documents obtained by the WHAS11 FOCUS team.
The Child Fatality report also lists several serious illnesses which are consistent with her mother's Facebook statements that Demiyah had been sick since she was a baby.
Child Protective Services said Demiyah had also developed a severe heart condition due to not getting her thyroid medicine while with her mother.
We tried several times to get in touch with the mom but we were unsuccessful.
Today, Health and Family Services wanted to set the record straight regarding its front-line social workers, arguing that blame is not only unfair but also counterproductive.
The agency also discussed a new training program to promote a "culture of safety," especially after what it calls "critical incidents," which include cases where a child that dies in foster care.
“You create an organization that supports their workers and some of the outcomes you see are workers feel more engaged, supported by their organization, and when you see that you typically see better retention,” Scott Modell, Collaborative Safety Co-founder told us.
Retention of front-line social workers or caseworkers has been difficult for Kentucky.
Commissioner Eric Clark said they are losing more of those workers than they're hiring.
For example, in Jefferson County, the agency hired 21 new social workers, but it has already lost 34 social workers this year.
The pay is not great and caseworkers can often bear the brunt of anger from a foster child's biological parents.
Joline Thornton is coming up on 10 years serving as a social worker but admits she's thought about quitting too.
“It's completely unrealistic to do the work that we need to do and it's unmanageable and overwhelming,” Thornton said. “Have you ever felt like you failed a child? absolutely, all the time, I do my very best with what I have and the information that I'm able to get.”
She says she handles about 75 cases in the Louisville area when ideally she should be in charge of no more than 18 cases.
"We're losing valuable experience, we're losing valuable expertise, and it has a ripple effect," Commissioner Eric Clark said.
What are your thoughts about our state's foster care system?
Has it impacted you, and what do you think needs to happen to make it better?
FOCUS wants to know, so send us an email at FOCUS@WHAS11.com.