Tomorrow Terry Brooks, our executive director, will talk on our blog about how kids fared in Kentucky’s General Assembly this year. While I assume everyone will want to read that version, I wanted to provide a slightly more boring, but objective version of what happened in 2013 for kids in our legislature. Kentucky Youth Advocates is part of the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children which is a collaborative of multiple child serving partners from across Kentucky working together to improve child well-being through policy change. Each year, we work with partners to present a unified policy agenda to our elected leaders and work together to make those proposed policies a reality. View the 2013 Blueprint agenda here.

Now that the legislative session is over, how did kids fare? Were the Blueprint priorities actually priorities for our legislators? When we take a look, we have some great successes to celebrate with the passage of the following bills for kids this session!

HB 290 puts into law a panel to review child abuse deaths

The child fatality review panel will help improve practices in the child welfare system to prevent future child abuse deaths. HB 290 builds upon the original executive order issued by Governor Beshear, which created the panel last summer. The bill ensures panel members have access to complete records that will give them the full information needed to identify ways to improve the system and prevent future deaths from occurring. The legislature also included a balance on transparency of information to make sure the public can monitor the process while also respecting the information of others involved in the cases beyond the perpetrator and child fatality victim. The final version of the bill added several significant measures for oversight to ensure the panel is acting in the interest of children and not swayed by the agencies involved.

HB 3 ensures that child victims of human trafficking receive the services they need, rather than being detained or prosecuted

Not only does this help heal their trauma and avoid a life of continued victimization, it saves the state money as detention is costly. The legislation also increases financial penalties for those convicted of human trafficking and creates a new “Human Trafficking Victims Fund” to redistribute the ill-gotten gains of convicted traffickers for victims’ services, law enforcement, and prosecution. First responders, including law enforcement and prosecutors, will receive training on trafficking to be able to better identify victims and know where to take them for assistance.

SCR 35 establishes a taskforce to study juvenile justice issues in Kentucky

There was a similar taskforce last year that met several times. This taskforce will build on the work completed last year and will work to identify recommendations to improve how our system works with young people interfacing with the juvenile justice system. Kentucky Youth Advocates looks forward to seeing the work accomplished by this taskforce, and especially addressing the problem of locking up youth for minor offenses such as truancy and running away from home.

SB 97 gives school districts throughout Kentucky the discretion as to whether or not they want to raise the dropout age to 18

After 55 percent of school districts choose to raise the dropout age to 18 from the current requirement of 16, the policy will become mandatory statewide four years after the threshold is met. Raising the dropout age was a Blueprint priority for a number of years and through the compromise to give districts the choice to raise the age, the bill was able to pass this year.

There were some other kids’ successes not on the Blueprint and we celebrate those successes as well. We want to thank the many legislators that stood up for kids this year and look for 2014 to be just as successful. So now that you’ve had the objective analysis, stay tuned for Terry Brooks’ post tomorrow, which you may find much more interesting.