Lawmakers want increased accountability over agency in charge of adoption, foster care

Lawmakers working to revamp Kentucky’s adoption and foster care system are pushing for a provision to strengthen the Office of Inspector General’s oversight of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

House Majority Caucus Chairman David Meade, R-Stanford, said the provision would move the cabinet’s ombudsman position out from under the direct supervision of the state’s health secretary and into the Office of Inspector General.

“It’s the single biggest factor in the bill that would shed light on any wrongdoing in the cabinet,” Meade told the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Public Affairs Committee at the Capitol on Thursday, “The general public needs to see where the problems are, to be as informed as possible.”

Meade, who is also an adoptive parent, is sponsoring the legislation that has been designated the House’s top priority of the current legislative session. He said the measure would be a first step in streamlining and speeding up the actual placement of children into loving homes in a quick and affordable manner.

The measure is based on recommendations from the House Adoption and Foster Care Working Group, which was tasked to find way to reduce to the high cost and burdensome paperwork associated with adoption in Kentucky.

“We’ve worked with Rep. Meade and the House task force members for months to find collaborative solutions that will transform our foster care and adoption system,” said Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. “While we are still reviewing the actual bill and there may be a few minor technical points to work out, the Cabinet is fully supportive of the efforts to provide better services to Kentucky children and families.”

Meade, who co-chaired the work group, wants to prevent children from lingering too long in state custody, whether that be moving them quicker through the foster care system or into adoptive homes.

The comprehensive bill creates more specific timelines for the termination of parental rights, establishes more accountability and oversight within the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, standardizes home studies to ensure safe homes in a more efficient manner, establishes a putative father registry, and creates a separate child welfare committee in the Kentucky House of Representatives. The legislation also aims to give foster care parents a stronger voice in the process, by expanding foster care advisory boards and allowing more parental input.

Other key components of the bill include utilizing technology to reduce the large amount of paperwork required of social workers, as well as improving efforts to recruit and retain valuable social workers. Gov. Matt Bevin has proposed an additional $24 million in funding for hiring more social workers and increasing pay for current ones., as well as $10.8 million to improve the foster care placement process and adoption efforts.

The 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention has been pushing for the revamping the state’s adoption and foster care system, passing a resolution last November calling for improvements.

“Unfortunately, the system is designed to protect deadbeat parents and not protect children,” said Matt Shamblin, pastor of Rose Hill Baptist Church in Ashland and a member of the KBC Public Affairs Committee. “Children become very much the victims of a very broken system.”

Meade said his overhaul proposal has widespread support among lawmakers, and he said he expects it to easily pass both the House and Senate.

By Kentucky Today