Two bills to make life a little easier for foster children passed the Kentucky House of Representatives Wednesday.
House Bill 192, which would allow foster children to get learner’s permits and driver’s licenses without the signature of their parent or guardian, and House Bill 180, which would allow children to be placed with neighbors or friends after being removed from a household, both passed unanimously with little discussion. They now go to the Senate for its consideration.
“Those are two good bills today in the direction that we want to go to make foster care better for the foster parents, and for the children that are in foster care,” said House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.
The bills are part of a larger initiative by Gov. Matt Bevin and several lawmakers to improve Kentucky’s adoption and foster care programs.
“If you are to be a foster child anywhere in America, you’re going to wish you were a foster child in Kentucky,” Bevin said in his State of the Commonwealth Address.
There were 7,917 children in Kentucky’s foster care system as of Feb. 6, according to the Cabinet of Health and Family Services. In his speech, Bevin pledged to hire a “czar” to reduce that number and overhaul the adoption system.
“There’s some number at which there’s always gonna be,” Bevin said. “But it needs to be a whole lot lower than that.”
HB 108 could potentially reduce the number of children in the foster system by allowing them to stay with “fictive kin,” which is defined as people who are not related but have an emotionally significant relationship with the child. That could potentially include a variety of people, such as coaches, neighbors or family friends.
“When children have to be removed from their home, it’s always tragic,” Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, said. “We do have grandparent infusion care, but sometimes there’s an individual who is not related who has a relationship with a child who can also provide care and they don’t have to go into foster care.”
Rep. Larry Brown, R-Prestonburg, said allowing foster children to get their driver’s license without a signature before they turn 18 will help normalize one aspect of their childhood. Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said she had spoken to foster kids who felt there had been a stigma when they weren’t able to get their driver’s license.
“I think this is a real good step in the right direction,” Marzian said.
Hoover said the two bills that passed Wednesday are likely the only ones related to foster care that will win approval this year.
“I think next year we’d like to do something with adoptions that streamlines the process and makes it easier to get through the adoption process,” Hoover said.