KING: Child welfare improvements an important impact of 2020 session
Published 10:08 am Wednesday, September 16, 2020
There are just under 10,000 children in foster care here in Kentucky, a truly staggering number that continues to rise year after year.
As I consistently say, our number one mission is to make Kentucky the best place to live and work – and that has to include how we approach the children in state care and kinship care.
We have a legal obligation to do right by them. But, we also have a moral obligation to ensure our state serves them to the best of its ability.
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That makes the laws we pass regarding child welfare critical. Frankly, the stakes are too high to get it wrong.
During the 2020 Session, the General Assembly passed several measures to improve our child welfare system.
Among them is HB 167, which builds on legislation we passed during 2019 to give foster parents a more prominent voice during court proceedings.
I think we can all agree that foster parents offer valuable insight into what is best for a child in their care. HB 167 protects them by allowing them to intervene anonymously in parental rights termination hearings. It only makes sense that families who have opened their homes to a child can advocate for their best interests.
We also approved legislation I co-sponsored aimed at easing the transition to a new school for Kentucky’s foster children.
HB 312 would expedite transferring a child’s confidential records between school districts and require more state collaboration with local school districts to help meet the child’s needs.
Many schools struggle to help foster children because they simply do not have the information they need.
This bill continues our mission to improve our childrens’ opportunities in foster care and builds on the Foster Child Bill of Rights passed during the 2019 Regular Session.
Senate Bill 115 opens career doors for foster and adoptive children.
There are currently tuition waiver programs in place that help children in the foster care system pay for undergraduate work in college. Under the provisions of this bill, the waiver applies to graduate programs. It also extends the period for eligibility.
We hear time and again of the struggles and hardships children face when they age out of the foster care system. I hope that including graduate programs in the tuition waiver program will incentivize the continued pursuit of higher education and make it more affordable and accessible. Hopefully, this change gives individuals a leg up as they seek to better themselves through educational opportunities.
I am proud of the measures we passed during the 2020 legislative session. However, there is still more work to be done.
It continues through the legislative interim as the Child Welfare and Oversight Committee continues its work.
As I wrote earlier, nearly 10,000 kids are in state care. That number is expected to grow as the economy struggles to regain strength in this pandemic.
Experts also believe we see an increase in child abuse cases once children return to the classroom where teachers and staff are trained to identify abuse and neglect.
We know that our social workers struggle with unimaginably high caseloads, leading to high turnover rates, burnout and low morale. In fact, the House version of the budget we passed before COVID included funding for 100 new positions, and also a 5 percent raise to retain those who already work for us. Unfortunately, we were unable to include this in the final version of the budget because of anticipated budget shortfalls.
We need to find better ways to recruit and retain loving foster homes. Finding homes has been a big issue during the pandemic, with so much uncertainty and little administration guidance.
However, we did not have enough foster homes before COVID-19.
You can imagine that this is a big responsibility but can be life-changing for both the foster child and the foster parent. I firmly believe that childrens’ future success in the foster care system is based largely on the support found in families and communities.
When my colleagues and I return to Frankfort in just over 100 days, we will continue our commitment and are prepared to take steps to keep kids and families safe.
We must continue to look at all of these problems and bring forth compassionate, commonsense and practical solutions.
In the meantime, we continue to meet in statutory committees throughout the year.
In my first meeting of the Program Review and Investigations Committee as a member, I was able to ask Dr. Steven J. Stack for a comparison of 2019 and 2020 cause-of-death data.
In this month’s meeting of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, I asked the new executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy to clarify who will be serving on Kentucky’s new AgriTech Council. When the governor removed Warren Beeler from his agricultural policy director duties, some thought it was only to have him serve on the AgriTech Council. That, apparently, is not the case.
Contact me if I can ever be of assistance to you. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181, and you can contact me via email at Kim.King@lrc.ky.gov.
You can also keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky legislature’s home page at legislature.ky.gov.