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Kinship caregivers could get more flexibility under Ky. bill that cleared Senate committee

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Jefferson County, speaks on the Senate floor.
LRC Public Information
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Jefferson County, speaks on the Senate floor.

When family members take over caring for a child, they have one chance to also apply for foster care benefits. Senate Bill 151 aims to give them more flexibility.

The process for relatives to take custody of a child can be a whirlwind, said Norma Hatfield, president of Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky. A Child Protective Services agent informs a grandparent (or other relative) that their grandchild has to be removed from their living situation.

They are given options. They can relinquish the child to the foster care system. They can take over temporary guardianship themselves. Or, as of 2019, they can register to become a “child-specific foster home,” meaning they enter the foster care system themselves and receive the same benefits as regular foster homes. But once you make that decision, it’s nearly impossible to undo.

“This is not the best time to make a life-altering, permanent decision,” Hatfield said.

If, for whatever reason, the grandparent checks the wrong box, that decision is set in stone. The grandparent cannot make the decision to change over from a guardianship to a child-specific foster home and receive all of the support that comes with it.

Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams from Louisville is sponsoring Senate Bill 151 to change that system. The bill would allow relative caregivers to opt into the program whenever they need to down the line.

On Tuesday, Adams told the Senate Committee on Families and Children that kinship caregivers often have to make that first decision under stressful conditions.

“There is no doubt that our relative and fictive kin caregivers are making this one-time decision in real time, under duress, for a child in their family who is at risk of being harmed, abused or neglected,” Adams said. “As many of our relative caregivers take on the additional responsibilities of caring for a child in their care through temporary custody, their financial situations may change.”

The legislation passed the committee unanimously and will next move to the full Senate where it awaits a floor vote.

Kentucky began offering foster care options for relatives in 2019, providing benefits similar to what typical foster parents already receive, including a daily allowance and other non-financial support.

Hatfield, with the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, said there are many reasons a relative might initially select temporary guardianship over more supportive kinship care options. She said sometimes, in two-income families, one of the caretakers has to leave their job because of the child’s additional needs. Or some relatives are initially uneasy about the process, due to lack of trust in CPS or concerns over restrictions within the foster care system.

“For all the good things that it does, [the child welfare system] is very rigid,” Hatfield said. “If you approve SB 151 — which I'm asking you, pleading with you to do — we're going to add a little more humaneness in the world for kinship caregivers that are having to deal with a lot of tough things, and help these kids.”

The bill also requires the courts to consider a list of potential family members provided by the children themselves when attempting to place them in a relative caregiver’s home. Adams said former foster youth requested the change to give them more agency in the placement process.

Underlying every bill moving through the legislature is the question of whether the state’s budget will fully fund the proposed initiatives. SB 151 does not have an appropriations request attached, and a fiscal impact statement prepared by the Legislative Research Commission said the bill wouldn’t have a financial impact on the state.

But, because of the bill, more caregivers would become eligible and could apply to receive state support through the program. Before the GOP-led budget passed the House of Representatives last week, Louisville Democratic Rep. Sarah Stalker brought up concerns that the bill did not provide enough money for relative caretakers. Stalker herself was a foster parent and said it taught her the value of keeping families together.

“I was a good home. But guess what, I am not a replacement for an aunt, or a grandparent, or any other member of a family who would be willing to stand up and take the responsibility of loving that kid,” Stalker said.

In the budget that is now being considered by the Senate, $26 million is dedicated to increasing the daily rate for foster care over the next two fiscal years. For relative caregivers, the budget allotted only $19 million over the next two fiscal years. Stalker noted that Beshear’s budget proposed millions more for relative caregivers.

GOP Rep. Jason Petrie from Elkton, who heads the House budget committee, said he decided to only partially fund the budget request for relative caregivers because the system is less “established” than the traditional foster care system.

LPM's state government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.

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