There are more than 9,000 Kentucky children in state care right now spending an average of 22 months moving between three different home placements.
According to data compiled by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, there were 121 foster children statewide listed as AWOL, Absent Without Leave in November.
Forty-nine of them, almost half the statewide total, were listed as AWOL in just one county: Jefferson.
“Been in out of home placement for years and years,” Gross said. “They go from foster home to residential care to hospitals and a lot of time they just lose hope, like why ever bother trying.”
“Our fence, it’s easy to just jump the fence and go,” Home of the Innocents program manager Rick Isaiah said. “So it happens quite a bit. I think they want to go home.”
The fence at Home of the Innocents may be easy to jump, but the problem goes far beyond this place. And it’s not about a fence. Many believe it is about home. Or at least family. Or relatives.
And further investigation reveals that’s not a priority here when it comes to foster child placement. In fact, Kentucky ranks 50th, last in the nation in the percentage of kids in foster care who are placed with relatives.
Seventy-five percent are placed in homes with non-relatives. And the percentages of child placements with relatives in Kentucky has been dropping steadily for years.
What's at stake in all this? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that of the 18,500 runaways reported, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking, and of those, 86 percent were in the care of social services.
"We’ve had situations where a kid has AWOL’d and come back a day or two later and they’ve been molested or raped or used for drugs, sex, things like that,” Isaiah said.