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Kentucky Adoption And Foster Care Overhaul Nears Final Passage

Kevin Bratcher holds papers at desk during committee meeting.
Legislative Research Commission
Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 3, a bill geared toward juvenile justice reform before the House Judiciary Committee.

A sweeping bill that would overhaul Kentucky’s foster care and adoption system is nearing final passage in the state legislature.

A key part of House Bill 1 would give the state more options to terminate the parental rights of negligent parents and try to reduce barriers for people who want to adopt.

The legislation would consider babies born with drug addictions to be “abused or neglected,” meaning the state could take steps to terminate parental rights unless the child’s parents take steps to get clean.

Rep. David Meade, a Republican from Stanford and lead sponsor of the bill, said it is “unacceptable” for children to be born addicted.

“This is twofold — it takes a step to force the parent into drug intervention and it works for the protection of that child,” he said.

If passed into law, the bill would give a mother 60 days to enroll in a drug treatment program if her child is born addicted to drugs. If the mother doesn’t comply, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services would petition for the termination of parental rights.

The legislation would also set specific timelines whereby parental rights could be terminated if a child can't safely be returned home but has established foster parents who are willing to adopt.

Rep. Joni Jenkins is a Democrat from Louisville and a co-sponsor of the bill.

“I think this [legislation] shows real balanced approach to keeping the rights of biological parents in mind, and encouraging families to stay together — but acting when that cannot happen so that our children in this state can be moved into stable families,” Jenkins said.

Kentucky has more than 8,600 children in state custody.

The bill would expand the definition of a “blood relative” to ensure that foster children can be put into the care of extended family, step-relatives and other close relations.

It would also create a "putative father registry” where men who believe they could be a child’s father can register in order to have a say in whether the child is adopted — designed in part to prevent a father from surfacing later in the adoption process.

The bill has already passed out of the state House and is now being considered by the Senate.

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