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Family court judges tell legislative working group that more social workers would speed up adoptions

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Family court judges told a bipartisan working group that adding more social workers and eliminating redundancies would speed up Kentucky’s adoption process and place more abandoned children in permanent homes.

The judges spoke at the first meeting of the House Working Group on Adoption on Tuesday in Frankfort.

Elise Spainhour, Family Court Judge for Bullitt County, said she knows spending more money is not a happy subject, “But you have got to have more people in the trenches. Not on the administrative level but you have got to have more social workers. We have social workers who monitor 40 families on the caseload. That is a time-bomb looking for a place to go off.

“Home visits take an hour, not including travel time, so one week per month is now being spent on those visits, and nothing else. It’s an inhuman standard,” she said.

Spainhour said everyone would like to speed up the timeline for the adoption process, and there are areas of duplication that could be eliminated.

More family court judges are also needed, she said.

Family Court Judge Marie Hellard offered her take on what needs to be changed in Kentucky’s adoption process (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

Marie Hellard, Family Court Judge for Anderson, Shelby and Spencer counties, told the panel no one is more discriminated against than foster parents.

“You take these children, open up your home, love on them, you treat them like they’re your own,” she testified. “But don’t ever speak out because, at a moment’s notice, we’ll jerk them out. I’ve seen it happen.”

Hellard urged lawmakers to give foster parents a voice in the process, saying other states do. They’re not making them sign a contract that said ‘you have no rights to this child’, which is what we do. It’s easy legislation. This will speed up the system.”

Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, who co-chairs the working group along with Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said the committee will be meeting monthly.

“In future meetings, we’re going to hear from foster care agencies, adoption agencies, but most importantly we’re going to hear from those who are affected most by this system, and that is the families,” said Meade.

Jenkins said she appreciates the diligence Meade has exhibited.

“We’ve had two pre-meetings,” Jenkins said. “I think we’re beginning to learn what we don’t know, and that’s always important.”

The working group hopes to have recommendations to House Speaker Jeff Hoover by Dec. 1. Hoover announced on the last day of the 2017 General Assembly that he would name a bi-partisan working group to reform the adoption process.

“With those changes, our goal is to do what is best for the families and the children of this state, not just what is best for the government,” Meade said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Matt Bevin named Daniel Dumas of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to oversee the administration’s effort to overhaul the foster care and adoption process in Kentucky.

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