Ky. lawmakers pass adoption, foster care bill

by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today, posted Tuesday, April 03, 2018 (16 days ago)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) -- The Kentucky Senate unanimously passed the top House priority, a comprehensive adoption and foster care reform bill that changes the way foster care and adoption are handled in the state to better benefit children.

Photo by Peter Fitzgerald, via Wikimedia Commons
Later Monday night (April 2), the House concurred on a 90-1 vote to send the measure to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature to make it law.

"This is the proudest moment of my legislative career," said Rep. David Meade, who is an adoptive father and serves as House Majority Caucus Chairman. "These landmark reforms will transform social services in Kentucky, positively affecting the lives of countless children while also adding more oversight and accountability to those overseeing foster care and adoption. With today's action, it became clear that the 2018 legislative session was all about putting children and families first."

House Bill 1's reforms are the result of months of careful, deliberative study and listening to all involved parties, Meade said. These reforms aim to place children into loving homes in a timely manner by reducing bureaucracy, while also speeding up foster care and adoption processing and giving foster parents more of a voice in the process.

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, hailed the bill as a much-needed step forward.

"As foster parents and adoptive parents, my wife and I have seen firsthand the pain perpetuated by Kentucky's overwhelmed, over-regulated, and underfunded child welfare system," he said. "Today, Kentucky lawmakers from both sides of the aisle united to defend our state's most vulnerable and hurting kids. I'm certain Governor Bevin, who has championed these reforms from the beginning, will quickly sign HB1 into law. I couldn't be more pleased."

The bill also protects infants diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a rising epidemic that occurs when a birth mother misuses controlled substances. The bill begins the process of terminating parental rights and getting the child into a better situation if the mother does not enroll in drug treatment.

"If there is an arena that historically has been marked by more rhetoric than action, it is around the child welfare system," said Terry Brooks of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "HB 1 will fundamentally change the landscape for Kentucky's most vulnerable young people. That is why we applaud co-sponsors Rep. David Meade and Rep. Joni Jenkins for their diligent work on this measure during the interim to gather input from stakeholders, including youth formerly in foster care."

Meade also applauded the support of first lady Glenna Bevin throughout the process.

More than 8,000 Kentucky children currently sit in state custody, one of many issues that sparked the creation of the House Working Group on Adoption in 2017. House Bill 1 is fully funded in the final budget proposal, which includes a 10 percent raise for all of the commonwealth's social workers.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, who is also an adoptive father, carried the legislation in the Senate and tweeted this after its passage:

"Proud of this one! A GREAT job by my friend and fellow adoptive dad, @DavidMeadeKy! This will make a huge difference in the lives of kids across Kentucky for years to come!"

HB1 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 Meade, a Stanford Republican, and Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville.

"In a time of division -- in a time when it is easy to become disenchanted with the political process -- HB 1 is silhouetted as an example of the powerful good that can come when elected leaders lead. Its impact will be profound and sweeping," Brooks said. "Every Kentucky kid deserves a family and HB 1 can make that happen."

Tom Latek is the capitol correspondent for Kentucky Today, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
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