Though the 2023 legislative session is soon ending, there are many bills that affect children and families making progress within the General Assembly. There are 4 important child welfare bills that child advocates have been keeping an eye on: Senate Bills 48 and 229 and House Bills 41 and 288.
While there has been a 33% reduction in victims from 2017 to 2021, Kentucky ranks 6th in the nation in child victims of maltreatment with nearly double the national rate of victims. Kentucky has made strides in how we investigate child maltreatment and support victims, but there is continued progress needed to strengthen outcomes for kids and families.
When people feel the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) did not take appropriate steps or make the right decisions in child welfare cases, they may contact the Ombudsman’s office to file a complaint. Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Senator Stephen Meredith, establishes a more independent Ombudsman that provides oversight of the child welfare system (CHFS/DCBS) by investigating concerns of safety and well-being, identifying systemic issues related to administration or practice, and making recommendations for improvements. It ensures that reports are investigated in a manner that improves transparency and reduces the likelihood of conflicts of interest.
From prevention to recognition and reporting, every adult has a role to play in addressing Kentucky’s high rate of victims of child maltreatment. Senate Bill 229, co-sponsored by Senators Julie Raque Adams and David Yates, includes critical pieces to close gaps in abuse reporting laws and strengthen how we support families at risk:
- Ensures that if maltreatment is suspected of an employee of a reporting agency, it must be reported accurately and in a timely manner directly to an appropriate external reporting agency.
- Clarifies that agencies cannot utilize a chain of command process so that reports are made directly from the professional who suspects abuse with key details and insight around the alleged maltreatment.
- Allows the Department for Community Based Services to do an assessment rather than an investigation, when appropriate, as a means to strengthen prevention and early intervention efforts and build a more collaborative relationship with the family facing an investigation.
- Takes steps to establish an Agency Representation Model to improve efficiency within the child welfare system by allowing the transfer of case hearings to the Office of Legal Services within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Once enacted, this bill would ensure that agencies are held accountable to uniform standards for reporting, ensure that consequences for retaliation are established, and provide the opportunity for investigative workers to announce home visits in order to be flexible families who may need resources rather than removal. It has passed both Chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
Both SB 48 and 229 are long-standing priorities of the Face It Movement policy team. The measures have passed both the Kentucky House and Senate and are headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Another child welfare priority this session is House Bill 41, co-sponsored by Representatives Rebecca Raymer and Samara Heavrin. The measure would develop a foster care student toolkit to provide resources and information to assist school personnel in addressing the unique educational needs of foster children. This bill is still awaiting its first committee hearing in the House Families and Children’s committee. While it has not received a committee hearing this legislative session, if passed, this bill would help uplift equitable education opportunities for children in foster care.
To address grooming and inappropriate conduct by school employees, a bill out the House would help reduce the likelihood of child sexual abuse in schools. House Bill 288, sponsored by Representative James Tipton, would:
- ensure public and certified nonpublic schools complete initial background checks and obtain reference checks of potential employees from previous employers;
- require applicants to disclose if they have been the subject of investigation, allegation, disciplinary actions, resignation, or termination regarding sexual misconduct in the past year, and;
- require training for educators on appropriate communications, sexual misconduct, and grooming.
It provides important guidance to help prevent abuse of authority by teachers that leads to further abuse of students. This bill needs final action by the Kentucky Senate before it can be signed into law by the Governor.
To track these bills and more as the session progresses, visit kyyouth.org/bill-tracker/.
If you’d like to share your voice regarding current bills to your legislators, you can find their contact information here.
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