The following editorial is republished from the Nov. 27 Advocate-Messenger, Danville.
We are now officially in the holiday season -- a time for giving thanks, giving to those in need and spending time with family. But for hundreds of kids -- more than 14,500 in Kentucky -- spending time with family is a point of difficulty. That's because they're living in out-of-home care -- a growing trend, according to data from Kentucky Youth Advocates, as reported in the recent KidsCount data release.
The data is actually current as of 2016 and has been trending up, meaning it's possible even more kids are in out-of-home care today. After dipping to a 10-year low of 11,132 kids in 2011, the number of Kentucky kids removed from their homes due to allegations of abuse or neglect rose every year for the next six years, according to the data.
Those numbers don't sound good, but they don't really communicate the complexity of the problem. They also do nothing to help those of us not in these kids' shoes understand what they go through. Kids are often removed from their homes for good reasons -- because they've been abused, or they've been left in dangerous situations by their caretakers. But even when out-of-home care is objectively safer for a child, it can be subjectively painful for the child.
Try this: Think about your family members. Think about the things your spouse does that make you happy. Think about the annoying habits you wish they would stop. Think about your child's greatest accomplishment. Think about the time they got up to no good and damaged something important to you. Think about your parents coming over for dinner with Christmas gifts in tow; think about your sibling stopping by to hang out.
Now imagine all of that is gone.
Imagine you have to get in a car today without saying goodbye and drive to another city hours away. Imagine you have to live in a guest bedroom in a stranger's home. Imagine you can only see your family once every couple weeks for an hour or so.
That's what many kids who are removed from their homes experience. It doesn't necessarily matter in their minds that their new "home" is safer, or that they might have more clothes or eat better food. What matters is their family, even if it's a family with some serious flaws. And they have been removed from that family.
So what can be done? Joining the effort to lift people out of addiction and stem the tide of the drug epidemic is probably the most effective way we can work to reverse the recent trend.
People addicted to drugs may be unable to care for their children appropriately; they may even hurt their children, leading to removals. People addicted to drugs can wind up in jail, which can also land their children in out-of-home care. But it's essential to remember that people addicted to drugs are still people. They have many other traits that are positive and they love their family just like you do.
We need people addicted to drugs to choose to fight their addictions. We also need to be a community that supports, rather than shames, those battling addiction. And we need a criminal justice system that enables rehabilitation and family connections.
If everyone pulls their weight, it's possible this time next year, there will be more children experiencing the holiday season as it's meant to be -- with family.