Friday, December 22, 2006

No need to ratify 1997 act just because KY lacks judgement to implement

New laws on adoption in works -
Proposals could slow 'quick trigger' process
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 17, 2006, pg. C1.

FRANKFORT -- Proposed new laws and regulations that could slow down Kentucky's so-called "quick-trigger" state adoptions will be drafted within the month, members of a state panel said yesterday.

The panel chaired by Cabinet for Health and Family Services Commissioner Mark D. Birdwhistell is wrapping up its review of complaints first levied in January by child advocacy groups that the Cabinet inappropriately removes children from their homes and, encouraged by federal law, expedites state adoptions.

Yesterday, parents who are losing their children to state foster care adoptions, the attorneys who represent them, and a citizen who reviews such cases all called for more oversight of state social workers' decisions.

"I'm being discriminated against because I'm poor," said Phyllis Richardson, a Lexington parent who testified before the Blue Ribbon Panel on Adoption. "The law has failed us. The Department for Community Based Services has failed us."

Under current Kentucky law, judges deciding whether to return state foster children to their families or to allow them to stay with prospective adoptive parents don't have a say in whether foster homes are appropriate.

"Change the law to give judges more power to change foster homes if there are serious problems," Lexington attorney Robin Cornette told the panel.

Also under current law, indigent parents aren't appointed an attorney for the first court hearing held after the state removes their child.

The final recommendations for legislation for the 2007 General Assembly should be finely honed by the panel's next meeting on Dec. 14. State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said he hopes Kentucky will change its laws and influence Congress to change federal laws that speed up adoptions from state foster care.

Recommendations possibly will include paying more money to attorneys who represent parents and providing parents with legal representation in the beginning stages of their case.

There also could be a recommendation to expand a pilot program in Jefferson County that allows parents who have regained custody to become parent advocates for families just entering the system.

The Jefferson County program, which began in 2005, has led to the reunification of at least eight families and prevented the removal of children in several other cases, said program coordinator LaRonda Davis.

Angela Funk, who serves on the Foster Care Review Board in Fayette County, told the panel that volunteers who review thousands of foster care cases each year don't have enough information about foster homes.

Funk said that, besides one Lexington adoption case that she thought moved too fast, she hasn't seen a trend toward "quick-trigger" or inappropriate state adoptions.

"But I do believe it had several red flags," she said. "The Cabinet needs to be willing to hear a difference of opinion."


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