Troubleshooters: Foster kids sleeping in state offices, parks

The kids are being rejected by foster homes and state contracted facilities for serious misbehavior.
Published: Oct. 11, 2023 at 5:38 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Nearly 200 times since last July, kids under the state’s care have been forced to sleep in state offices, at state parks, or in hospital emergency rooms because the state had nowhere to put them.

The data obtained by the WAVE News Troubleshooters provides the most detailed picture of the problem since it was first revealed kids have been sleeping in the L&N building at Ninth and Broadway, and buildings across the state.

WAVE News Troubleshooters spent months trying to get video proof of what’s been happening.

We obtained a rare glimpse of the foster care crisis in one police department’s body camera video.

That video shows the maze the state finds itself in.

“What are we doing, come over here,” a Maysville Police officer said on his body camera video.

This summer, Maysville Police found a 16-year-old walking on the bridge to Ohio with his backpack and sleeping bag.

“Why we running for?” the officer asked.

“They’re trying to charge me?” the boy said.

“Charge you with what?”


The boy had run away from the state social services office a block from the base of the bridge. He didn’t want to go back.

“Can you just let me go,” the boy said.

“No I can’t let you go,” the officer said.

After a struggle, officers cuffed him, put him in the car and brought him back to the government building, where state workers confirmed to police the boy was in big trouble.

“Because he’s admitted to it,” a social worker said. “He’s admitted to raping a 12-year-old in his foster home.”

WAVE News Troubleshooters don’t know officially what happened next to the boy. Those records are confidential. However, state records we obtained show a 16-year-old boy spent 15 days living and sleeping in that office building during this exact time frame. The body camera video provides a rare look at the crisis Kentucky is facing.

“They can’t put him in any facilities?” one officer said.

“No, because he’s been turned down all around the state,” another officer said. “And now that he’s got a sexual, possible sexual crime, they can’t put him anywhere that there’s a female.”

The records show that foster children in the state’s care have had to sleep in state offices, hospitals, or state parks with social workers with them nearly 200 times since July 2022 when the state began tracking this issue.

On average, kids will sleep in what the state calls a non-traditional placement for four nights, although half stayed less than two nights. The kids are typically teens, the average age is about 15. However, a two-year-old was the youngest to spend a night in an office in Prestonburg.

Kids have slept in the L&N building in downtown Louisville 17 times.

One child spent six nights sleeping at the Barren River State Park Lodge, but state workers told a judge in one case the lake presents a safety hazard to kids who may want to hurt themselves.

Nearly 30 times kids have been forced to sleep in hospital emergency rooms even though they were not patients.

“Our facility has provided accommodations while a state guardian is with them at all times,” UK King’s Daughters Spokesperson Tom Dearing said.

By far, the state’s main alternative is an office.

“Will one of you all stay in case he runs again?” the social worker in Maysville asked. “I’m going to give him his night medicine, that makes him pass out.”

“Is (an office) an appropriate setting for foster children?” WAVE News Troubleshooter Mark Stevens asked.

“No, we’ve had this conversation for well over a year,” Republican State Senator Julie Raque Adams said.

She said these kids need a higher level of care, but because they do, foster homes and state-contracted facilities reject them for being too difficult. Social workers will make hundreds of calls trying to find a place to send a foster child with no luck.

“The kids that are in state care that kind of need that extra support and extra counseling don’t have a place to go,” Adams said.

“Facilities that are already under contract with the state, should they be able to reject kids?” Stevens asked.

“They are providing care for the kids that they have been certified to care for,” Adams said. “This is a higher level of care that is required.”

“Right now, we don’t have the capacity to adequately meet the needs these young people represent,” Kentucky Youth Advocates Director Terry Brooks said.

He said the state shouldn’t force kids into programs that can’t handle them. That would disrupt treatment for other kids in the state’s care. He said the state needs to invest in more specialized programs and people to treat these kids, which means more expensive care.

“We’re going to have to talk turkey during (the upcoming) budget session,” Brooks said. “It’s one thing for a lawmaker or the administration to say we really care about these kids, it’s another thing to put dollars where your rhetoric is.”

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services ignored WAVE’s requests to interview Secretary Eric Friedlander. However, he last told state lawmakers in July kids sleeping in state offices is unacceptable.

“This is a tragedy, it’s a tragedy,” Friedlander said.

His staff said they tried offering more money to people willing to treat these kids, but it didn’t work. Now the state has asked for companies to provide some type of program to treat up to 24 kids with the toughest cases.

“We can’t be that state,” Friedlander said. “These are kids.”

Meanwhile, the kids who find themselves in limbo will continue to find themselves sleeping in state buildings.

“Are we staying here for the evening?” the social worker in Maysville said. “Are you going to run again?”

“No,” the boy said.

“See you in the morning,” the social worker said.

A state spokesperson emailed WAVE News Troubleshooters Monday, nearly a month after WAVE requested an interview with Secretary Friedlander.

She said the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has added $41 million to its budget to help providers and get more foster parents.

The state’s call for proposals for an additional 24 beds to treat these difficult cases didn’t get any responses.