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May 7, 2018


...from statewide sources

Changes are coming for the thousands of Kentucky children who are removed from their homes each year for their own protection and then forced to live indefinitely in legal limbo.

Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin and his wife have several foster children of their own, so Bevin is well educated on the subject.Ky. Gov. Matt Bevin and his wife have several foster children of their own, so Bevin is well educated on the subject.


Foster mom: ‘It should not take three years to get your act together’

Becky Mullins, a foster parent in Lee County, says Kentucky children often spend too long in temporary foster care while their biological parents struggle to turn their lives around.

Last month, the legislature passed and Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law House Bill 1, which will make several important reforms to the state's child-welfare system. Among them:

Stricter deadlines for biological parents to turn around their troubled lives or — failing that — for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to ask a judge to sever parental rights so it can permanently place children with adoptive families.

Termination of parental rights could begin after a child has been in state care for any 15 of the last 48 months. The cabinet would review the case and make a recommendation to a judge about the child's future within six months. The court would get updates every three months after that until the child is permanently placed.

This alone could make an enormous difference.

On average, the 9,034 Kentucky children who were in state care on April 1 had spent 22 months moving between three different home placements, according to cabinet data.

But that's just a statistical average. In interviews, foster parents tell of children who spend three or four years waiting to learn their fates. This has been aggravated by the worsening scourge of drug addiction. Parents hooked on opioids might relapse and enter treatment multiple times as their children are held indefinitely by the state.

"We don't want biological parents thinking, 'Oh, it's OK, I've got a year before I have to start getting my act together,'" said state Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, who was one of the bill's sponsors.

"We need pretty hard deadlines to motivate them to move right now," Jenkins said. "A year to an adult isn't that long, but it is to a child. You don't get your first year back if you spend it in foster care. You don't get your second year back."

The older a child is, the harder it can be to place him in an adoptive home, said Paul Huber, a foster and adoptive parent in Jessamine County. The average age of a child in state care is 9 years old. The clock is ticking as biological parents keep getting second chances from the authorities, Huber said.

"The problem is, your local judges have a say, and often they'll say 'OK, we'll give the parents three more months to work their plan before we even talk about terminating parental rights,'" Huber said. "And then they'll do that two or three more times. So now you've got a child who's been in state care for a year longer than he or she really needed to be."

▪ Greater authority for foster parents over seemingly small matters, like being allowed to approve haircuts for children on their own, and larger concerns, such as having the right to be heard in family court and cabinet proceedings about the children's future.

Foster parents complain that caseworkers and judges sometimes treat them as little better than babysitters, showing no interest in what they have to say about the children they shelter. Foster parents say they're not always told that a hearing has been scheduled, much less invited to speak.


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