Shaquita Ogletree
On Monday, February 26, Governor Matt Bevin (KY-R) and Children’s Bureau Comissioner Jerry Milner were part of a panel of experts on foster care, adoption, and family law who shared their perspectives on how to reform the foster and adoption systems. The event was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

The Governor opened the forum discussing his passion for child welfare and Kentucky’s plan for making the state the best system in the nation.

The Governor is in a prominent position to shape child welfare policy that will impact the approximately 8,500 children in Kentucky’s foster care system. With 2,400 children in Kentucky waiting for adoption, Governor Bevin expressed the need for a greater effort and highlighted a new initative that is targetted at hiring more social and caseworkers. He emphasized the need to hire the right people with the proper skills.

Bevin discussed the topic in the context of his personal experience. He recounted his first experience with the child welfare system when he described his frustration over why he and his wife were denied the adoption of an 11 year old child who had been in foster care for more than a year and who stayed in care after the denial. They have adopted children since and he discussed his experience as a father of nine children, five birth and four adopted and how it has proven to be valuable in his role as Governor in reforming Kentucky’s child welfare system.

This year his budget proposal is prioritizing child welfare reform as the top state issue. In response to a question he stated that the Family First Act would support preventative services and kinship preferences in Kentucky. As examples he pointed to two programs that are providing services statewide, First Steps and START (Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team), for children and families impacted by the opioid epidemic and substance use.

Commissioner Jerry Milner of the Administration for Children and Families repeated several times how child welfare focus should be on prevention before child maltreatment and that primary prevention is the solution to the foster care system and not increasing more foster homes. He indicated that flexibility in funding was the single most important factor

Judge Ronald Richter, CEO of JCCA (a New York City-based children’s services agency) and the former Commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services discussed past efforts of New York City shifting funding to preventative services and how consequently the number of children in foster care decreased.

Robin Wilson, Professor of Law at the University Of Illinois, focused her remarks on what she described as a culture war on children. She provided an analysis of states legislation on religious freedom exemptions for child placing agencies and specifically the impact that Texas, South Carolina, and possibly Georgia legislation will project on children and families. She reflected on the fact that she was adopted and how if her parents had to endure the discrimination of a child placing agency that she may have lingered in the foster care system. Professor Wilson also emphasized the need for faith-based agencies and her concern that they not be eliminated as providers of adoption services.

Governor Bevin recommended that we listen more to children to change the system, Professor Wilson suggested that we allow families to make decisions [regarding placement of children], but Judge Richter stated that to change the system we must have services available to families when families are in need of those services.