May is National Foster Care Month. Roughly 8,000 children live in Kentucky’s foster care system, many of them because of parental neglect, which often stems from substance abuse. As we mark National Foster Care Month, our hearts go out to those who must, through no fault of their own, navigate life in the foster care system.
We believe every child deserves a safe, loving, and permanent home. Often the best way to help children find this is by helping families stay together. Keeping more families intact can prevent more children from entering the foster care system.
On the other hand, many of the children who do enter foster care find the love and stability they need thanks to foster families and adoption. Either way, a safe and loving home is the goal. We’re both parents who understand this. That’s why we’re working, at both the federal and state levels, on ways to help children and families.
SENATOR MITCH McCONNELL: As your senior senator for Kentucky and the Senate Majority Leader, I have focused on federal legislation to address the needs of Kentucky families. One bill I have cosponsored, the Protecting Families Affected by Substance Abuse Act, would reauthorize federal grant funding for programs that improve outcomes for children affected by parental substance abuse, including helping to safely reunify families when possible.
One Kentucky program that has benefitted from these grants, the Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START), has achieved nationally acclaimed success. It’s produced roughly twice the sobriety rates that traditional child protective services programs do, and sends half as many children to foster care.
Distressingly, the number of children diagnosed with newborn drug withdrawal in Kentucky has grown by more than 4,500 percent since 2000, with more than a thousand such babies born annually. I was proud when my bipartisan bill, the Protecting Our Infants Act, was signed into law at the end of last year to help address prenatal opioid addiction and the rise in infants born dependent on opioids as a result of this addiction.
I also work with Kentucky families who generously open their hearts and their homes through adoption. Some Kentucky families who wish to adopt internationally encounter difficulty bringing their adopted children to the United States, and I’ve been proud to help a number of them welcome their adopted children from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Haiti. I am also glad to assist Kentuckians who are pursuing domestic adoptions with navigating the federal bureaucracy.
FIRST LADY GLENNA BEVIN: As the First Lady of Kentucky, I have also made building stronger families a priority. Kentucky’s children deserve to have the best possible start in life and that begins with stable, intact families. I’m a mother of nine children—four of whom are adopted—so I know what the families in Kentucky who are seeking to adopt are going through. I commend them for providing homes for at-risk children.
As First Lady, I have taken an active interest in federal child welfare policy. Recently, I provided written testimony to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Kentucky’s efforts to help children in, or at risk of entering, the foster care system. One effort I have supported is Kentucky’s successful START program, funded in part by the grants Senator McConnell is working to reauthorize, which helps keep at-risk families together.
Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services has been committed to helping us actively recruit more foster families throughout the state and to raise awareness for the need for foster families. Alongside foster care providers, we have worked to create more transparency and accountability in the child welfare system for the benefit of all foster kids.
Finally, we worked with legislators to craft a bill which will make it easier for children to stay with family members when their parents are away due to incarceration, substance abuse treatment, military leave, or other reasons. Thankfully, it passed the Kentucky Legislature and has been signed into law.
Together, as Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky’s First Lady, we feel we can be effective champions at both the federal and state levels for children in Kentucky who are in the foster care system, or in distressed families and at risk of entering the foster care system.
The policies we’ve outlined above have already made a difference. But there is still more work to do. As long as Kentucky families face challenges, and children are at risk, we will keep fighting on their behalf, whether in Frankfort or in Washington.