In­spired by his own fam­ily, gov­er­nor takes on foster sys­tem

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY ADAM BEAM

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.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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