New Juvenile Justice Reforms on Track to Positively Impact Kentucky Kids

The implementation of Senate Bill 200, passed during the 2014 session, is underway, and the work reported so far shows great promise for the new law to truly transform the lives of children for the better. After several years of the Unified Juvenile Code Task Force meeting and the many weeks of negotiations as SB 200 moved through the legislative process earlier this year, the courts and state agencies have been working to change practices and policies guiding how the state handles youth that get in trouble with the law.

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Council met for the first time last week, and members of the Council representing various state agencies provided information on the progress underway to implement the bill overhauling Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.

A transformation in terms of collaboration has already taken place, according to the many presenters from state agencies tasked with implementation. The courts and departments involved shared that they are working together in new ways to ensure they can achieve full implementation of the new law. Even as the meeting took place, decisions were being made to prioritize eliminating bureaucratic challenges that are impeding success. For example, rather than terminating Medicaid when a young person is placed in a juvenile justice facility, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services committed to work on changing that practice to instead suspend Medicaid. In practical terms, that means youth have health coverage – and therefore, access to needed treatment – immediately upon leaving a juvenile justice facility instead of having to wait up to 30 days for Medicaid to be reinstated.

Agencies reported on their progress on implementing specific components of the bill. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) shared progress on one critical component of the legislation: the Family Accountability, Intervention and Response (FAIR) teams. The AOC has been holding meetings with key stakeholders and community partners to launch the pilot FAIR team sites. These teams will play a critical role in connecting youth to services and intervening early when the situation can be addressed without court intervention.

Some challenges arose, such as how to coordinate data systems to be able to track child involvement across agencies. And more challenges are likely to arise. However for the moment, there is much to celebrate with the progress being made so far. As Commissioner Teresa James of the Department for Community Based Services stated, we will likely look back on this time with all of the changes taking place as a time that changed the trajectory for children in Kentucky. The changes spurred by SB 200 are a major factor in that trajectory change.

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