Charlotte Brinegar, at right, received a pin for five years of service on a foster care review board.
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Every year, thousands of Kentucky’s children end up in the care of the state for a variety of reasons.
Finding loving, permanent homes for these children is a time-consuming task, one that is often overwhelming to the family court system.
To address the problem of back-logged family court cases, the state of Kentucky created a volunteer-based citizen review system, now the largest one in the nation, according to the Citizen Foster Care Review Board website. There are about 700 review boards statewide.
Each county has a review board, and some have more than one. These volunteers conduct about 21,000 reviews every year of more than 11,000 children who have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care, with relatives, or with child-care facilities.
There is a tremendous need for foster and adoptive parents in Kentucky, but not everyone can see themselves taking that step.
Volunteering to be on a review board is another way to offer help.
Estill County resident Charlotte Brinegar, a retired teacher, has been serving on the local review board now for about five years. She first became aware of the opportunity after she read an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader about the need for people to serve on review boards.
At the time, Brinegar was still working, so she didn’t feel she could be a foster parent. These days, she’s busy with grandchildren, but she still wants to contribute.
“I do enjoy it,” she said. “It’s not a whole lot, but I feel like I’m doing something to help.”
The main goal of the family courts is to reunite families. Parents of children who have been removed from homes must go through a process to get their children back: they must take classes, are drug-screened, etc.
If a child is already in foster care, the review boards monitor those situations to make sure the children are adjusting and are well taken care of.
Those who participate in review boards assist family court judges by reading over case files and answering a two-page questionnaire. Reviewers also can make recommendations or take note of “findings” in the case files.
This saves the judge some time, because he or she might not have enough time to read through a four-inch case file.
There is often a backlog of family court cases, because family court only meets one day a month. If someone can’t come for the review, the case is postponed for another month, and the cases are bogged down even further.
To become a volunteer for a review board, members must agree to an all-day training, are sworn in by a judge, and agree to total confidentiality. Many are retired teachers and medical personnel, Brinegar said.
She is the only one from Estill County who serves on the review board in Estill County. Local review boards try to maintain three to five members. Typically there are three members in the county, but two of those are from Madison County.
The process doesn’t take up a lot of time. One day a month, Brinegar and others serving on the board meet to review case files, then they gather for a face to face review with case workers, a supervisor, foster parents, biological parents, and sometimes the children, particularly the teens.
If it’s clear that a foster family is not a good fit, members of review boards can recommend a child be moved. They can also recommend that children be returned to their biological parents if those parents have taken the necessary steps to provide a good home for the children.
Additional foster parents are needed but participating in a review board can also be a way to help Kentucky children to be placed in loving homes.
Anyone who would like to become a CFCRB volunteer, may contact the Department of Family and Juvenile Services, Administrative Office of the Courts, 1001 Vandalay Drive, Frankfort, Ky, 40601. Call 800-928-2350 or email CFRB@kycourts.net.