FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Legislation to overhaul Kentucky’s adoption and foster care system is now just one step away from final passage, after winning unanimous approval from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Monday afternoon.
House Bill 1 was the product of a bi-partisan working group named on the last day of the 2017 legislative session by then House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, with co-chair by Reps. David Meade, R-Stanford and Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville.
The group had more than a half-dozen public meetings and numerous other gatherings with stakeholders, before issuing recommendations in December and introducing the bill at the end of January.
Among its more significant provisions, more specific timelines for the termination of parental rights establishes more accountability and oversight within the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, standardizes home studies to ensure safe homes in a more efficient manner, and establishing a putative father registry in keeping with around 27 other states.
The legislation also aims to give foster care parents a stronger voice in the process, by expanding foster care advisory boards and allowing more parental input.
Other key components include utilizing technology to reduce the large amount of paperwork required of social workers, as well as improving efforts to recruit and retain valuable social workers. The latter goal received a large boost when Gov. Matt Bevin proposed adding $24 million to hiring and increasing pay for social workers along with $10.8 million to improve the foster care placement process and adoption efforts in his two-year budget proposal.
More work on adoption and foster care could come in later years through the work of a permanent Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee that would also be created by HB 1. It would be the job of that committee to “review, analyze, and provide oversight to the General Assembly on child welfare” in the state.
Meade described changes made by a Senate committee substitute: “Foster parents, child-caring facilities and child placing agencies would receive a 10-day notice when a foster child is to be moved,” he said. “So we’re including the agencies as well as foster children and the foster child.”
Another change involves child advocacy centers, Meade told the committee. “They may provide testimony during an administrative hearing, in lieu of files, notes, photos, electronic and other communications, if the center determines a release poses a threat to the safety and well-being of the child.”
It would also remove a child born addicted due to his or her mother’s drug use as reasons for termination of parental rights, if she has chronic pain requiring medication; and allowing the court to appoint attorneys for birth parents in adoption proceedings, if the court finds the birth parents are indigent.
One more change approved by the committee came at the request of Kentucky State Police, Meade testified, regarding the speeding up of state background checks. “It allows the KSP to work directly with private agencies and allows installing fingerprint scanners at those agencies.”
The bill passed 11-0.
After the meeting, Meade addressed the committee vote. “It’s a testament to the great bill that it is,” he said. “It’s something Sen. Whitney Westerfield and I have worked on for several years, as well as Rep. Jenkins, and all the hard work and refining that’s gone into it.”
In addition to Bevin, who has four adopted children, Meade said several other state lawmakers, including himself, have also adopted children.
“There are more than I had realized,” Meade said. “At least four or five of us in the House, and I know of two or three more in the Senate. This issue has affected many of us.”
He added, “We wouldn’t be where we are now without the governor and first lady bringing attention to the issue, and making it a priority for them, as well.”
The bill now heads to the Senate floor.