Initiative focuses on behavioral health of foster children

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A new initiative will lead to better behavioral health care for children in the foster care system, state officials say.

A statement from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services says the agency will begin implementing a pilot program called Project SafeSpace early next year to screen children in Fayette, Boyd and surrounding counties entering foster care for behavior health issues. The agency says the project is expected to expand to half the state by the middle of 2016 and to every county by 2018.

The initiative is being paid for with a $2.5 million, five-year federal grant from the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Teresa James said foster children are more likely to have behavioral health concerns that affect development.

"Through this project, we can give lifelong, improved well-being to the children in out-of-home care who will transition back home and those placed for adoption," James said in the statement.

Project SafeSpace Manager Nicole George said many children aren't identified until they are already in foster care. She said the new program should help officials make better decisions in placing children.

"We will know early on what treatments a child entering care will need and what foster families might be best trained and equipped to provide it," she said. "Stability is very important to these children's well-being."

Fayette County Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton, who has been involved in the planning process, said Project SafeSpace should provide more stability to children and more support to foster families.

"For kids coming into care — especially kids with behavioral needs — they go through a bunch of placements at the start, because we don't know what their needs are," she said. "By having a good screening process right at the beginning for these children, we have a better shot at giving appropriate placement for them and getting them appropriate therapy really quickly."

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