FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Kentucky’s new commissioner of the Department of Community Services is primed for his new challenge.
Frankfort native Eric T. Clark, 41, was appointed to the position by Gov. Matt Bevin last week, taking over for Adria Johnson, who resigned in June.
Clark worked for the Legislative Research Commission for more than a decade, spending five years as a non-partisan staff member for the General Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee.
“That equipped me well to understand the legislative process, the regulatory process, and issues within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services,” Clark said. “Whether that be adoption and foster care, Medicaid, public health. Behavioral health or licensure for health facilities.”
After leaving the LRC, Clark was executive director for the Kentucky Board of Dentistry and served as an advocate for long-term care providers and residents, then joined CHFS after Bevin took office, where he has served as legislative director, then chief of staff of the Cabinet before taking on his new role July 5.
Clark said the Bevin administration has been able to secure several wins for DCBS in the past two years, beginning in the 2017 session with HB 180 and HB 192.
“House Bill 180 was the fictive kin bill,” Clark said. “If there’s a family that has a pastor, a coach, a mentor or a neighbor where there’s a good relationship, it allows those individuals to step up and help take care of children for that family that is struggling.”
HB 192 dealt with drivers’ licensing for children in the foster care system. “There was a quirk in the law that prevented foster youth from obtaining their drivers’ license. We worked with the Transportation Cabinet and the legislature to allow that.”
As for HB 1, the adoption and foster care bill approved by the 2018 General Assembly, Clark said, “I’ve called that piece of legislation the most transformative piece of state child welfare legislation in the history of the commonwealth.”
He said many parts of the bill resulted from DCBS working with Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, who co-chaired the adoption working group and other members of the legislature. “We wholeheartedly support the intent of that legislation to speed up permanency and increase adoptions, which takes effect July 14.”
Clark said many people breathe a sigh of relief when the legislature leaves town April 15, but that’s not the case with the Executive Branch.
“You’re working tirelessly to implement the acts of the legislature, which we’ve been doing across the Cabinet. With HB 1, we’re prepared to implement a putative father registry, we’re already looking at reviewing case files to start streamlining and increasing permanency timeliness. We’re working very hard at DCBS to implement that comprehensive piece of legislation.”
With everything going on in his department regarding child welfare transformation, going way beyond HB 1, Clark said “we have a real opportunity to truly bring Governor Bevin’s vision of making Kentucky the best state for foster care in the nation.”
There are currently 9,500 children in foster care across Kentucky and Clark said his goal is to reduce that number.