Children and families came first in 2018 legislative session

Published 6:26 am Thursday, April 26, 2018


Guest columnists

While numerous policies beneficial to all Kentuckians were passed in the 2018 session, children and families were the major winners.

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The record of accomplishment on their behalf in 2018 alone was extraordinary. Not only did we work together to make significant reforms to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care systems, but social workers received significant raises and overburdened family courts received long-sought relief.

Public welfare programs were reformed in a manner that puts the most vulnerable first, ensuring that those who are not deserving cannot cut in line. Action was also taken to ensure that victims of violent crime see their day in court.

We teamed up to transform our foster care and adoption systems for the better in House Bill 1. This bipartisan legislation will place Kentucky children currently in state care into loving homes in a timely manner — and is the result of months of hard work and feedback from judges, social workers, and concerned parents. It was our top priority to make it easier to both adopt and place children in foster care, and we delivered on that.

Over 8,000 Kentucky children are currently in state care, and this measure will expedite the process of getting each one of them into a loving home. HB 1 breaks down barriers to improving the lives of children, prioritizing the uniting of families over excessive bureaucracy.

We are both adoptive parents who have seen the failures of the current system firsthand. These experiences, as well as those of many other citizens, helped shape our reforms, which ensure that the well-being of children and families comes first.

Significant reforms in House Bill 1 include mandating quicker timelines for the court system to place children, establishing a putative father registry to prevent delays in a child’s placement proceedings, and implementing more rigorous oversight over the government agencies that oversee child welfare in Kentucky.

This historic measure also takes concrete action to stem the effects of opioid abuse on infants, who often suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome as a result of a birthmother’s misuse of controlled substances. It begins the process of terminating parental rights if the mother does not participate in treatment within 90 days of the child’s birth.

Funding is also critical to this effort, and $23 million has been allotted for foster placement efforts and $28 million to hire more social workers and upgrade their technology. Our social workers are already overworked, and adding mountains of paperwork doesn’t make their jobs any easier.

Additionally, $22 million will go toward increasing the salaries of our dedicated social workers, which will not only provide greater support for those on the front lines of many societal issues, but will also improve the recruitment and retention of these public servants.

Creating stable and healthy families should always be a top priority of lawmakers, and it certainly was this session. The landmark reforms that the General Assembly put forth will pay dividends for years to come. Our work will transform Kentucky’s social services, providing hope and an easier route out of state care for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Those are efforts that Kentuckians of both parties can be proud of.

Rep. David Meade of Stanford is the majority caucus chairman in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Glenna Bevin is the first lady of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.