Nearly two months after a Kentucky judge held the state in contempt of court for the “dismal shape” of its child welfare agency, state legislators unanimously passed a bill to help address these poor conditions.
In a Feb. 8 order, Barren County Family Court Judge Mica Wood Pence found that the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services “willfully violated” or acted with “open disrespect” in failing to meet basic requirements of the state’s child protection laws. Staff shortages and overwhelming caseloads have left the agency incapable of properly managing abuse and neglect cases.
In an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal, Pence said the problems are not new and have been going on for a long time. As a result, some children remain in foster care much longer than they should instead of being reunited with family.
Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration has been struggling to address the cabinet agency’s problems for several years.
“All three branches of our government must be involved in order to effectively establish a permanent solution for the crisis affecting the abused and neglected children of the commonwealth and the frontline … social workers,” Pence said in her Feb. 8 order.
Last week, Kentucky lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that aims to address the ongoing problems in the state’s child welfare system. Senate Bill 8 would firm up definitions of “abused or neglected child” and “community resource organization, and make “conforming changes to align with new established definitions.” If signed into law, it would also establish a State Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, which would meet quarterly and help initiate changes in the child welfare agency so its practices match those new definitions. The law would also expand Medicaid reimbursement and more broadly define fictive kin caretakers “to include those with an emotionally significant relationship with a parent or sibling,” according to Kentucky Youth Advocates.
“SB 8 will impact children across the child welfare continuum – from child maltreatment prevention to investigation to healing and out-of-home care,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, in a press statement. “This legislation is a necessary next step in Kentucky’s efforts to fundamentally strengthen and reform the child welfare system to best serve children.”