Legislature keeps momentum in commitment to overhaul foster, kinship care programs

Published 11:20 am Monday, May 13, 2019

By David Meade

Guest Columnist

Recently, I read an article in the Frankfort State-Journal about a young man, Cameron Galloway. Cameron has lived most of his life in and out of foster care. He has seen firsthand how our state’s foster and child welfare system struggles to meet the needs of the very children it exists to serve.

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Cameron’s story reads like so many of the more than 10,000 children currently in foster care. Since entering the system as a toddler, he was in an out of foster homes, including five during his four years of high school. More than 20 percent of children in foster care have had four or more placements.

As an adoptive father, I am acutely aware that behind those numbers are real children who deserve a chance at a loving, stable childhood. As a legislator and member of House Majority Leadership, I can tell you that there is a very real and sincere commitment to this mission. Our comprehensive adoption and foster care reforms are ultimately driven by what is best for the child, including placing children into loving homes in a timely manner and reducing the number of children in state care. Our efforts have also been undoubtedly boosted by the cooperation and help of caring and dedicated stakeholders and advocates, including our religious organizations. Without each and every one of them, these accomplishments would not be possible.

Last year’s passage of a transformative measure, House Bill 1, to remake our adoption and foster care systems was the first step in our journey to make Kentucky the gold standard of child welfare. This year, I was honored to work with children’s advocates on bills that establish a foster child bill of rights, create a service-based Kinship Care program for relative and fictive caregivers, and give foster parents standing in certain court proceedings.

House Bill 158 sets forth specific, statutory rights for foster children such as adequate food and shelter, family visits, and safe and stable families. This bill also helps adoptive families by making the voluntary consent for a parent to place a child for adoption irrevocable after 72 hours. Currently, an individual has up to 20 days to revoke their consent, often leaving adoptive families and needy children in limbo. This provision will remove a significant barrier for potential parents.

Last year we expanded local citizen foster care review boards in order to give foster parents a greater voice. We built on that progress this year with House Bill 446 – legislation giving foster parents standing in court proceedings involving the termination of parental rights of the biological parent due to neglect or abuse.

HB 446 also seeks to prevent children in state custody from seeing numerous home placements in a short time period. The bill requires foster care review boards to submit findings on the number of times a child has been moved from home to home. This information must include whether the child has moved three or more times within a six month period.

The General Assembly has taken some very positive steps in improving the quality of life for Kentucky children in foster, adoptive and kinship care and it has earned us national attention. I was proud to see all of these measures pass with strong, bipartisan support.

Cameron Galloway is now a junior at Kentucky State University. He is on a path to accomplish great things for himself, and is committed to advocating for foster children. However, there are so many more children who may not have the same opportunity. It is important that we continue to lead on this issue. While certainly a tall order, we are working diligently to accomplish these goals and provide a better life for the most vulnerable among us, a worthwhile cause that every Kentuckian can celebrate.

Rep. David Meade, of Stanford, is the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Kentucky House of Representatives.