A Kentucky bill that passed the Senate committee would grant more latitude to kinship caregivers

According to Norma Hatfield, president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, the process of relatives taking custody of a child can be quite overwhelming. It typically starts with a Child Protective Services agent notifying a grandparent or another relative that their grandchild needs to be removed from their current living situation.

Parents faced with the difficult decision of what to do with their child have several options available to them. They can choose to place the child in the foster care system, take on temporary guardianship themselves, or, since 2019, register as a “child-specific foster home” and become part of the foster care system, receiving the same benefits as regular foster homes. However, it’s important to note that once a decision is made, it becomes extremely challenging to reverse it.

According to Hatfield, now may not be the most ideal moment to make a life-changing and irreversible decision.

If, for any reason, the grandparent mistakenly checks the wrong box, they are unable to change their decision later on. They cannot opt to switch from a guardianship to a child-specific foster home and receive the full support that accompanies it.

Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams, hailing from Louisville, is spearheading the initiative to bring about a transformation in the current system through Senate Bill 151. The proposed bill aims to provide relative caregivers with the flexibility to enroll in the program whenever the need arises in the future.

During his testimony before the Senate Committee on Families and Children on Tuesday, Adams emphasized the challenging circumstances under which kinship caregivers are often required to make their initial decisions.

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According to Adams, it is undeniable that our caregivers, whether they are relatives or chosen family, are faced with the challenging task of making a crucial decision on the spot. They must do so while under pressure, all in the best interest of a child in their family who is at risk of experiencing harm, abuse, or neglect. Adams emphasized that the financial circumstances of these caregivers may undergo changes as they take on the added responsibilities of providing temporary custody for the child in their care.

The committee unanimously approved the legislation, which will now proceed to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Kentucky introduced a new initiative in 2019 that extends foster care options to relatives. This program offers similar benefits to those received by traditional foster parents, such as a daily allowance and various forms of non-financial assistance.

According to Hatfield from the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, there are various reasons why a relative may choose temporary guardianship instead of more supportive kinship care options. In certain cases, one of the caretakers in a two-income family may be required to quit their job to meet the child’s additional needs. Additionally, some relatives may initially feel apprehensive about the process due to a lack of trust in CPS or concerns about limitations within the foster care system.

According to Hatfield, the child welfare system, despite its positive aspects, can be quite inflexible. Hatfield passionately urges the approval of SB 151, emphasizing the need to introduce more compassion into the lives of kinship caregivers who face numerous challenges while caring for children. By supporting this bill, it would not only bring relief to these caregivers but also provide assistance to the children in their care.

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The bill also mandates that the courts take into account a roster of potential family members suggested by the children themselves when seeking to place them in a relative caregiver’s residence. According to Adams, this modification was requested by former foster youth in order to empower them in the placement procedure.

The question of whether the proposed initiatives will be fully funded by the state’s budget underlies every bill that goes through the legislature. In the case of SB 151, there is no appropriations request attached. Furthermore, the Legislative Research Commission’s fiscal impact statement stated that the bill would not have a financial impact on the state.

The bill, however, would make more caregivers eligible to apply for state support through the program. Louisville Democratic Rep. Sarah Stalker expressed concerns about the bill’s insufficient funding for relative caretakers before it was passed by the GOP-led budget in the House of Representatives last week. As a former foster parent, Stalker emphasized the importance of keeping families together.

“I used to be a comfortable home, but let’s be real, I can never replace the role of an aunt, grandparent, or any other family member who is ready to step up and wholeheartedly embrace the responsibility of loving that child,” Stalker emphasized.

The Senate is currently reviewing a budget that includes a dedicated amount of $26 million to raise the daily rate for foster care during the next two fiscal years. However, relative caregivers will only receive $19 million over the same period. Stalker pointed out that Governor Beshear’s budget had allocated millions more for relative caregivers.

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GOP Rep. Jason Petrie from Elkton, who is in charge of the House budget committee, explained that he chose to provide only partial funding for relative caregivers in the budget request. He justified this decision by stating that the relative caregiver system is not as well-established as the traditional foster care system.

LPM’s coverage of state government and politics is made possible in part by the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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