Kentucky Child Welfare Director Resigns as Foster Care Total Climbs

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is making a change at the top of his Department for Community Based Services, a division of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) that presides over family and child welfare services for a state with rising foster care removals.

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Adria Johnson has resigned as Kentucky’s top child welfare official

Adria Johnson has resigned after negotiations with the governor’s leadership. She will be replaced at least in the interim by her former chief of staff, Elizabeth Caywood, who has been with CHFS for nearly 20 years.

Bevin appointed Johnson to lead the child welfare agency in January of 2016. Before that, she was a housing official for the administration of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D).

The number of available foster homes in the state has increased steadily under Johnson, largely in part to a greater reliance on private contractors to find and license more candidates. But the number of youth in foster care has skyrocketed, reaching 9,500 this year, a record for the state.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last year, Johnson said the spike is absolutely tied to increased maltreatment allegations stemming from drug use.

“Seventy-one percent of children are coming into care as a result of substance abuse, contributing either directly or indirectly,” Johnson said.

Bevin signed legislation this session that would enable the child welfare agency to move immediately toward termination of parental rights when a child is found to have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome at the time of birth, meaning the child has problems prompted by exposure to opiate drugs while in the womb.

Johnson is the second top child welfare official to resign from the Bevin administration. The governor recruited Dan Dumas, senior vice president of the Louisville-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to serve as a child welfare “czar” with an eye toward increased involvement in foster care and adoption from the faith-based community.

Bevin terminated the no-bid, $240,000 contract given to Dumas for the position, and Dumas left with a $60,000 buyout.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.