Inspired by his own family, governor takes on foster system
FRANKFORT, KY. | The little girl was 11, living in a foster care group home, when she ended up playing tag in a Louisville park with the daughters of a wealthy investment manager who would one day be Kentucky’s governor.
Matt Bevin said he and his wife, Glenna, noticed how the girl attached herself to their daughters, “like she was just one of the kids.”
Moved by her situation, the Bevins started the process of trying to adopt her from Kentucky’s child-welfare system. They had their fingerprints taken, took parenting classes, had their fingerprints taken again, opened their home to an inspection and were fingerprinted a third time.
The state ultimately rejected their application because, the Bevins said, they had five children and officials worried the girl wouldn’t get enough attention. So the Bevins “gave up” and went to Ethiopia to adopt four children, a process they called simpler and cheaper.
That was eight years ago, before Mr. Bevin became well-known for his failed challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary and his surprising comeback win in the 2015 gubernatorial election.
Now Mr. Bevin is in charge of the system he says failed them and the girl, an experience shaping one of his most ambitious initiatives: an overhaul of Kentucky’s child-welfare system.
A former state official said privacy rules prevent staff from commenting on the Bevins’ case. Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, appointed by Mr. Bevin in 2015, said his “firsthand knowledge of the burdensome bureaucracy and unnecessary requirements” of the system is why it’s being transformed.
The Bevins and their children split time between their Louisville home and the governor’s mansion in Frankfort, where he and his wife sat down with The Associated Press for an interview last month.
Mr. Bevin said he wants to “rethink the entire system,” a process that — excluding a small raise for state social workers he signed in 2016 — will come without a significant increase in spending.
That puts him at odds with many child-welfare advocates who say the program suffers from underfunding and inadequate staffing.
“That’s just impossible,” said Democratic state Rep. Joni Jenkins, co-chairwoman of a committee studying childwelfare system changes.
He’s also picked a fight with family court judges, saying some “genuinely, I’m convinced, don’t even care.”
“The judges should not have the latitude to make the decisions that they are making. Because some of them are making terrible, terrible decisions,” Mr. Bevin said. “They are not looking at what is best for the child.”
It’s unclear what a governor could do to alter judicial decision-making in child-welfare cases, which Mr. Bevin acknowledges would be difficult. He said he’s asked his general counsel to “start looking at this.”
Gov. Matt Bevin (left corner) wants to overhaul the state’s troubled child-welfare system, inspired by his own family’s failed attempt to adopt a young girl eight years ago. The Bevins tried to adopt her from Kentucky’s child-welfare system.