Health and Family Services Cabinet
Blue Ribbon Panel on Adoption Recommends Changes to Child Welfare System; Group’s ideas to be proposed in two bills
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 8, 2007) – The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ (CHFS) blue ribbon panel on adoption made recommendations today for changes regarding protection of parental and family rights in the child welfare system.
At the group’s meeting this morning, Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, described her legislative proposal, which makes several amendments to statutes regarding rights of parents whose children are removed from their custody.
The Blue Ribbon Panel’s Family Protection Act, sponsored by panel member Denton, includes the following recommendations:
• Require training for judges, guardians ad litem (GAL) and court-appointed counsel associated with child welfare cases.
• Require that the court appoint a GAL or an attorney before a temporary removal hearing (rather than after the hearing) so children are not removed from home without legal cause.
• Increase fee limits for GALs and court-appointed counsel.
The bill also will give low-income parents who contest an involuntary termination of parental rights at the trial level better access to legal representation if they choose to appeal a judge’s ruling.
Several family court judges have appeared before the blue ribbon panel and suggested the judicial changes.
Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, has filed House Bill 199, which addresses the judicial training requirement. It has had its first reading and has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
CHFS Secretary Mark D. Birdwhistell chairs the blue ribbon panel, which has been meeting since August to review the process and current practices that lead to the termination of parental rights and adoption of children in the state’s child welfare system and to identify opportunities for improvement.
Birdwhistell said the panel is grateful to the CHFS staff, judges, advocates and parents who researched the issues and presented both facts and recommendations to the panel.
“Our panel heeded the comments of all those who gave testimony. As a result, we have crafted a bill that aims to give birth parents a level playing field when it comes to family rights,” Birdwhistell said.
Also in Denton’s bill, judges will be required to explain the legal process of custody removal and termination at the temporary removal hearing – at the beginning of the process.
“The intention is to give parents a better understanding of the serious consequences in a custody case,” Birdwhistell said. “Our hope is that parents will work with caseworkers to make positive changes so their children can return home more quickly and spend less time in foster care.”
Birdwhistell said when cases are better handled at the court level, it is less likely rulings will be reversed on appeal, meaning greater permanency for more children.
– 30 –