The well-being of children in our state is of paramount importance to me. As I have said since my husband and I were first entrusted to serve the commonwealth, our hearts are with Kentucky families. That’s why I am so passionate about my initiatives to improve conditions for children in foster care and to make the adoption process easier and more affordable. We have made strides in both areas.
Our Fostering Success program is now in its second year. I am proud of the 130 young people who have graduated from this collaborative initiative that provides those aging out of the foster-care system with job training and leadership skills.
Fictive kin legislation, signed into law, allows children who need a safe haven to be placed with a teacher, coach or other adult mentor who may already have a loving relationship with the child.
Finally, a new law allows foster youth to obtain their driver’s licenses without requiring a parent’s signature. This provides them with the mobility to get to and from school or work and is instrumental in moving them toward adulthood.
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These are positive and impactful steps, but the journey toward our goals is only beginning.
Far too many children are in unstable and sometimes abusive homes. At the same time, we now have over 8,600 children in our foster-care system. It is going to take a collaborative effort to address these problems. It is also going to require funding. That is why Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget allocates money in three key areas relating to Kentucky families.
First, $24 million was budgeted for the Department of Community Based Service’s Permanency and Protection workers. These workers are on the front lines, dealing with issues that take an emotional toll. They are dedicated and care deeply about the families they work with.
They witness the unstable conditions some children are facing and in some cases must remove a child from the household. Currently, they face daunting caseloads, and some are getting discouraged and are leaving for other employment. The funds would provide better compensation and create new positions to reduce caseloads.
Second, the budget includes $5.1 million to restore the Kinship Care program. In many instances, next of kin are willing to provide homes for children who have been displaced. However, it can create a financial strain. In the past, the state provided financial support to family members willing to open their homes to these children.
However, the program was placed on moratorium in 2013 due to budget concerns. This new funding allows children to remain with family members and benefits the state by not forcing these kids into an already-crowded foster-care system.
Finally, the budget includes funds to support adoption. As we saw during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address, when baby Hope and her adoptive parents were featured, no foster care or government program can take the place of a loving forever home. The funds budgeted to facilitate adoptions will return priceless dividends to the future of Kentucky.
I recognize and appreciate the importance and complexity of determining the budget for the commonwealth. The process is deliberate and collaborative, and that’s as it should be because the budget touches the lives of every Kentuckian. I also recognize that there are many important programs and a finite amount of money.
Yet, it is my deepest hope that the General Assembly will retain the funds proposed for these three programs. Surely, no area of the budget can be more critical or return greater dividends than an investment in our children.
Glenna Bevin is Kentucky’s first lady.