I want to compliment Gov. Matt Bevin for wanting to improve Kentucky’s adoption and foster care system. But, respectfully, hiring an “adoption czar” is not the ideal approach.
The appointee is a fine gentleman, but that’s not the point. Child welfare involves many disciplines and moving parts involving law, sociology, psychology and medicine. All three branches of government will have to work together.
Gains can only come through a collaborative approach, not an antiquated throwback to the autocratic Russian empire. Instead, we should bring together experienced professionals and lay people united by their passion for improving children’s lives and strengthening families.
While there are others more qualified, I nonetheless offer my services to help organize this effort. It won’t cost the commonwealth a dime, and I guarantee improved outcomes. Blessed with a wide network of friends, colleagues and professionals, we will quickly identify ideal candidates to lead this collaboration, then recruit qualified volunteers to serve.
We’ll research, interview, gather facts, survey best practices from around the country, isolate issues, and then develop solutions.
This approach has worked before. I participated on one that made improvements to our Department of Public Advocacy in 1998. In fact, the work of a 2007 Blue Ribbon Panel on Adoption led to important advances. A new panel focused on today’s issues could do the same.
But those issues are likely to be broader than the governor’s mandate. He said that his new czar would “help us cut through the red tape currently keeping 8,000 of Kentucky’s foster children from their forever families.”
Lawyers get nervous at such talk because the complaint of “red tape” is likely to involve the constitution and its due-process guarantees. Parents and children are guaranteed the protection of these rights. And this takes time.
It takes time to make sure parents get legal notice of involuntary termination of parental rights actions. It takes time to appoint attorneys who then must prepare for what is often the most traumatic experience in a parent’s life. It takes time to ensure the child is likewise represented. It takes time for the cabinet to satisfy its constitutional duty to provide reasonable efforts and then prove that the termination of parental rights and subsequent adoption is in the child’s best interest.
By its very nature, this is not a quick process. The last thing we need is a totalitarian rush to unravel what it took our nation over 200 years to develop.
Still, we can do better. But the fact-finding and issue-resolution process is much better dealt with through a collaboration of the panel, the legislature, the judiciary and the cabinet.
And as Terry Brooks, head of Kentucky Youth Advocates, and a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial have pointed out, a narrow focus on adoption and foster care won’t come close to addressing the real issues obstructing child welfare: too few social workers, too few resources, and mostly, too little will.
Finally, I want to thank the foster-care providers throughout the commonwealth, both relative and non-relative. Those I have met do a great job. They are lifesavers. Indeed, many do adopt — the very beneficiaries of the sought-for improvements.
To be sure, there are deficiencies and Kentucky must always improve its quality control to weed them out. But by far, most do a tremendous job and deserve our gratitude.
Richard F. Dawahare, a Lexington attorney, represents plaintiffs challenging state policy of denying foster-care payments to relatives.
At issue: Herald-Leader article, “Bevin paying new ‘czar’ for adoption and foster care $240,000, plus bonuses”