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 that have graduated from this collaborative initiative that provides those ageing out of the foster care system with job training and leadership skills. Fictive Kin legislation was passed and signed into law by my husband as well.
This allows children who need a safe haven to be placed with a teacher, coach or other adult mentor that may already have a loving relationship with the child. Fictive kin provide a safe, stable environment within the child’s own community where they have familiarity and a comfort level with those who will care for them. Finally, a new law in Kentucky allows foster youth to obtain their driver’s license without requiring a parent’s signature. This provides foster teens with the mobility to get to and from school or work and is an instrumental part in moving them toward adulthood.
These are positive and impactful steps, but the journey toward our goals is only beginning. Far too many children in our state 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 and ensure that Kentucky children and youth receive the care they need. It is also going to require funding. That is why Governor Bevin’s budget allocates money in three key areas relating to Kentucky families.
First, $24 million was budgeted for our DCBS Permanency and Protection workers. These workers are on the front lines. These workers deal with issues that take an emotional toll on them. They are dedicated and care deeply about the families they work with. They visit homes, witness the unstable conditions some of our state’s children are facing and in some cases must remove a child from the household. Currently, they face daunting caseloads, and many good and experienced DCBS employees are becoming discouraged. Some are leaving to seek other employment. The funds allocated for DCBS will provide encouragement through better compensation while relieving overwhelming caseloads by creating new positions.
Secondly, the budget includes $5.1 million to restore our state’s Kinship Care program. In many instances, next of kin are willing to provide a home for children who have been displaced. However, when a child is suddenly placed in a home, it can create a financial strain on their new guardians. In the past, the state provided financial support to family members who were willing to open their homes to these children. However, the program was placed on moratorium in 2013 due to budget concerns. This program benefits children by allowing them 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 in Kentucky. As we saw during the President’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 for our state 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 and wife of Gov. Matt Bevin.