Senate bill could spare kinship care families in Kentucky from making a costly decision

By: - February 6, 2024 4:59 pm

Norma Hatfield (right) and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, presented the kinship care bill in committee, Feb. 6, 2023. (Screenshot)

FRANKFORT — When Kentuckians learn that a grandchild, nephew, niece or other young relative is being removed from an unsafe home, some families make a decision that later robs them of needed resources. 

That could change under a bill that passed unanimously out of the Senate Families and Children Committee Tuesday. 

Many people who step up to care for a young family member do so to keep the child out of the foster care system and while “under duress for a child in their family who is at risk of being harmed, abused or neglected,” said sponsor Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville. 

Still crusading for ‘kinship care’ families

Senate Bill 151 would  allow children who must be removed from their homes to list potential caregivers that could influence their placement, which would open up options for the child.

The bill would also allow kinship caregivers to change their placement status from temporary custody to a child-specific foster home, a change that would come with financial assistance to kinship care families.

It passed 10-0 and can go to the Senate floor for a full vote. 

Norma Hatfield, who is president of Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, told the Lantern that it’s often not clear to families what all their options are in the high-stress moments when they first learn a child in their life is in trouble. 

They hear the words “foster care” and immediately want to sign up to take temporary guardianship, she said. But that comes with “minimal supports and resources,” Raque Adams said. And state officials currently don’t allow any changes in status after that initial decision. Foster care families receive $750 or more per month per child.

Under SB 151, families could later change to foster care status that would come with additional support like clothing stipends, respite care or even potential permanent custody after six months. Hatfield said families are often not aware of this latter option. 

“Why are we making life altering decisions, permanent decisions, under a time of duress?” Hatfield asked senators as she testified in favor of SB 151. She later told the Lantern that in these high-stakes moments, “You have all of these things reeling in your head, and all you want is to get them and know they’re safe.” 

Hatfield, in addition to advocating for policies that help Kentucky’s kinship families, has been raising two grandchildren for nearly a decade. 

“Imagine Child Protective Services contacting you to see if you were willing to care for a child in your own family – a niece or nephew or a cousin – who is at risk of being abused or neglected,” Raque Adams said. “Most of us would step up.” 

The problem, she told her colleagues, is that Kentuckians are “making this one-time-only decision on the spot with no ability to reassess or fully understand the impact that your decision will have on your personal finances.” 

SB 151:

  • Defines “child specific foster home” as “an individual or family approved by the cabinet as a foster family home for a relative or fictive kin placement.” 
  • Requires courts to consider potential relative or fictive kin caregivers from a list that’s provided by the child, if the child is able to provide such a list. 
  • Would allow a relative or fictive kin caregiver to apply to the cabinet as a child specific foster home for minors who are or may be placed with them. 

“If you do relative foster care you get … assistance equivalent to a regular foster child,” Hatfield told the Lantern. “That is extremely helpful.” 

Terry Brooks, the executive director for Kentucky Youth Advocates, said in a statement that “while this is just the first step in the bill process, SB 151 reaching the finish line this session along with investments in kinship families in the final state budget will be a win for those vulnerable kiddos as well as their grandpa, aunt or coach stepping up to ensure the Kentucky kids they love can grow up safe and hopeful.”

Hatfield is currently pushing to get a legislative task force established to study kinship care. 

For now, she said: “I’m really excited about today. I really am.” 

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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.

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