‘Game Changer’ for Kinship Care Families Sails Out of Kentucky Legislature

Longtime advocate sheds tears in House gallery as bill wins unanimous approval.

Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, said the bill will help close a gap in resources and support for grandparents and other kinship caregivers who are raising young family members. (LRC Public Information)

Long awaited financial help will be coming to “kinship care” Kentuckians who are raising a minor relative such as a grandchild or niece, thanks to a bill that received unanimous approval in the House Friday.

Senate Bill 151 now heads to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk for a signature or veto. It passed the Senate in early February.

Norma Hatfield, president of the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky, hailed the bill’s passage as a “game changer for a lot of families in the future.”

The bill allows kinship caregivers to change their placement status from temporary custody to a child-specific foster home, a change that will come with financial assistance, as the Lantern previously reported.

It will also let children being removed from homes list their potential preferred caregivers, allowing them more say in their placements.

Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, brought the Senate bill to the House floor. The bill, she said, is all about giving kinship care families in Kentucky more flexibility.

“This flexibility will close the services, supports and resource gap that is currently plaguing many of the families,” she said.

Hatfield, who has been raising two grandchildren for nearly a decade, is a longtime champion of kinship families and renewed her push for help from the legislature this year. She told the Lantern on Friday that the bill’s passage was “hugely emotional.” She said she cried in the House gallery  as the bill was approved.

The fact that both chambers passed the measure unanimously “says very clearly this needed to happen,” she said. “And it’s the right thing to do. I mean, there’s just absolutely no doubt anywhere.”

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said  final passage of HB 151 means “thousands of Kentucky’s kinship and fictive kin families flat out won today.”

“Just as these caregivers step up at a moment’s notice to provide a safe space for their young loved ones to grow and heal, our General Assembly has stepped up once again to prioritize the well-being of these children who have experienced abuse or neglect,” Brooks said.

Still, work remains, Hatfield said. She’s closely watching a House resolution that, if passed, would establish a Kinship Care task force. Members would study kinship in Kentucky and submit findings by Dec. 1, which Hatfield said could provide needed data revealing needs facing kinship caregivers.

“I’m hoping that the study will clearly identify those things, educate the legislators as well, educate the public, and then we can start working on the rest of the supports that are needed for these families that are kind of caught in a gap that don’t have anything,” she said. “I have high hopes for that.”

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: info@kentuckylantern.com. Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

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