By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A new committee created as part of the adoption and foster care reform legislation passed in the spring met for the first time on Monday.

The committee selected co-chairman – Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Rep. David Meade – by acclamation.

Meade, who was instrumental in moving the adoption foster care reform bill through legislation, said they are there to “give recommendations to improve the system” and envisions similar actions taken by an adoption task force committee last year that proved highly successful.

“We will give input to the Health and Family Services Committee, the Judiciary Committee, or whichever committee oversees the bills on this topic that come before them,” he said.

Meade said he wants anyone with concerns to contact any committee member because “we know that reform cannot happen with one bill or one session.”

Among those attending the first meeting of the new committee was first lady Glenna Fletcher, who is involved in the implementation and said she’s optimistic.

“I think it’s going really, really well.  Everyone is working together. We’ve got top-notch people on the team who have their foot on the gas,” she said. “They get it.  They’re passionate about the kids.  I think we’re set to do some really wonderful things.”

Chris and Alicia Johnson, the couple who Gov. Matt Bevin recently named to oversee the adoption and foster care reform effort in Kentucky, also were in attendance.  The couple has 10 children, seven of whom were adopted.

Chris Johnson, who was most recently lead pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Clermont, Florida, said he likes what he’s seen during his short time in Kentucky.

“I appreciate the energy that is obviously here, the desire for change, the importance of putting the child first, making sure the child’s cared for,” Chris Johnson said.

The Johnsons bring the experience of being adoptive parents and of having been a part of improving Florida’s care system. Chris Johnson said they have “a unique perspective” based on what they learned worked and didn’t work in Florida.

Alicia Johnson says partnerships are important.

“Making sure that each piece of this puzzle is fitting together nicely and we’re doing an excellent job of working together,” she said. “Not just because we have to, but because we want to.  Building those partnerships and those relationships, supporting one another to make Kentucky the number one state in child welfare.”

Chris Johnson said he was on the board of Florida’s statewide Foster and Adoptive Parents Association, where they did a lot of advocacy work and he oversaw the regional vice-presidents.  The Johnsons spent about 10 years shaping the Florida system.

Officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts told the committee they are working with all the stakeholders in the Judicial Branch to implement the provisions of HB 1 and that includes educating judges, court clerks, attorneys and Foster Care Review Board volunteers; developing court rules, forms and staff support; and holding community forums and ongoing planning sessions.

The first regional community forum being held by the AOC is Friday, August 24, at the Hardin County Extension office in Elizabethtown.  The public is invited to attend and give input.  Other regional forums will be scheduled in the future.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is tasked with implementing provisions of HB 1 for the executive branch of government, with Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Eric T. Clark and members of his staff describing their efforts that started even before the legislative session ended.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” he told lawmakers.  “My leadership style is to be bold and ambitious, and I’m going to take all the help I can get.”

Among the figures they released showed the number of out of home youth has grown 22 percent between June 2014 and July 2018, from 7,778 to 9,528.

“We are not pleased with those numbers,” Clark said.  “We want to reduce the number in out of home care and increase the number of adoptions.”

Among provisions of the new legislation is 7 percent salary increases for social workers, with family services office supervisors receiving a 10 percent raise. An additional 230 social worker positions are being created across the state.

There is also a reorganization of the department in the works.  “We have high turnover within DCBS,” Clark said.  “We feel if we can offer a career ladder with upward mobility for those who want promotional opportunities, we can retain our workforce better.”

The committee meets again next month.