FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 24, 2007) – The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) is making several changes to the state’s child protection services practices to improve the equity of the process for families and ensure the best outcomes for children in state foster care. 

CHFS Secretary Mark D. Birdwhistell announced the changes, which do not require legislative action, at today’s meeting of the blue ribbon panel on adoption. Birdwhistell chairs the 13-member group, which has been meeting since last August to review the process and current practices that lead to the termination of parental rights and adoption of children in the state’s child welfare system.

“Many of these changes come directly from issues raised by parents and other advocates who testified at prior meetings of the Blue Ribbon Panel,? Birdwhistell said. “We’ve identified these opportunities for improvement with the expectation that they will mean more equitable results for birth parents,? Birdwhistell said.

The changes include:

• CHFS is strengthening its standards of practice related to relative placements to more clearly instruct and guide social service workers on when and how to promptly identify potential relative placements, especially birth fathers and paternal relatives.
• CHFS’ Office of Legal Services is collaborating with the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) to provide additional legal training to front-line staff.
• CHFS and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will develop a checklist of requirements in a juvenile case to assist judges to ensure due process for children and their birth parents.

“We want to take every opportunity to make sure parents understand their rights and responsibilities during determinations of child custody,? Birdwhistell said. “Chief Justice Joseph Lambert and the AOC are playing an important role in making sure that happens.?

Lambert attended today’s meeting and announced that the AOC and its partners will be hosting the first Kentucky Summit on Children on Aug. 27-30 in Louisville.

“I can think of no issue more important than the well-being of Kentucky’s children,? said Lambert. “To that end, I have asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to bring together as many partners as possible to discuss how to improve the delivery of services to families and children. After the summit, we will host nine regional meetings to acquire local input. This careful process will help us determine the best course of action to take in implementing administrative procedures and other changes.?

Several of the blue ribbon panel’s recommendations were proposed to the 2007 General Assembly as part of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s Family Protection Act, legislation sponsored by panel member Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville. The bill called for court appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) or an attorney before a temporary removal hearing and an increase fee limits for GALs and court-appointed counsel. Another panel member, Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, filed House Bill 199, which addressed a training requirement for judges. Neither bill passed.

Birdwhistell said the panel continues to meet and gather new ideas on the adoption and foster care process.

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