House makes Meade's adoption, foster care overhaul top priority

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – House lawmakers have made a measure that would revamp the state’s adoption and foster care system their top priority for the current legislative session.

House Majority Caucus Chairman David Meade, R-Stanford, filed House Bill 1 on Tuesday, saying the measure would be a first step in streamlining the actual placement of children into loving homes in a quick and affordable manner.

The measure is based on recommendations from the House Adoption and Foster Care Working Group, which was tasked to find way to reduce to the high cost and burdensome paperwork associated with adoption in Kentucky.

Meade, who co-chaired the work group, wants to prevent children from lingering too long in state custody, whether that be moving them quicker through the foster care system or into adoptive homes.

“For eight months, our bipartisan working group has listened to many interested parties and worked diligently to produce this bill,” said Meade, who is the father of an adopted daughter. “Many issues have led to the epidemic of children lingering in the state system, including an oversized bureaucracy, the opioid epidemic, and a lack of attention in the past to these issues.”

The comprehensive bill creates 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, establishes a putative father registry, and creates a separate child welfare committee in the Kentucky House of Representatives. 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.

Meade, along with co-sponsor Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, worked closely with the governor’s office and First Lady Glenna Bevin, who has been an outspoken leader and advocate of adoption and foster care reform.

“I was proud to co-chair the Adoption and Foster Care Task Force with David and think the work our group did will be the basis for one of this year’s legislative highlights,” Jenkins said. “If this effort benefits just one child, it will have been worth it.”

Other key components of the bill 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 Governor Bevin proposed adding $24 million to hiring and increasing pay for social workers, as well as $10.8 million to improve the foster care placement process and adoption efforts, in his two-year budget proposal.

“While truly solving this problem will be an ongoing effort, I am confident that we will get this piece of legislation passed this session and steer some much-needed funding towards improving the lives of families and children,” Meade said. “Eventually, our goal is to make Kentucky the gold standard for children in state care.”

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