FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Gov. Matt Bevin has signed legislation to overhaul Kentucky’s adoption and foster care system, calling it a victory for families in the commonwealth.
The governor announced the signing of House Bill 1 in a Thursday night video posted on Twitter. “An incredible amount of work went into this bill. It changes forever what happens in families.”
Sitting at his desk in his Capitol office, he pointed out a picture of his family which includes nine children, four of whom are adopted. “Think of all the families in Kentucky - foster families, adoptive families, people wanting to adopt, kids wanting to be part of a forever family – whose lives will be made better by this.”
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 establishes a putative father registry in keeping with around 27 other states.
“With so many challenges facing state government during the 2018 General Assembly, knowing that HB1 is now the law of the land in Kentucky is cause for celebration for anyone with a heart for abused and neglected children,” said Dr. Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “This legislation was about them. As a foster parent and adoptive parent, I can tell you this legislation is a big deal. Unanimous support in the Senate and only one opposing vote in the House speaks volumes about the willingness of our elected officials to join Governor Bevin in prioritizing the needs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”
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 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 HB1. It would be the job of that committee to “review, analyze, and provide oversight to the General Assembly on child welfare” in the state.
In his video, Gov. Bevin thanked those who made the legislation a reality. “I’m grateful to my wife, the first lady of Kentucky, who have made this a passion of hers. I’m grateful to Rep. David Meade, who’s made it a passion of his. So many other people in the House and Senate. It’s an honor for me to sign this bill.”