Politics & Government

Kansas Senate bill could set up special category of foster parent

A special category of foster care providers who would have greater independence and control over foster kids’ education could be set up under a bill given initial approval by the Kansas Senate.

The existing foster care system would remain intact, but SB 410 would allow the Department for Children and Families to create a special type of foster care provider who would undergo training and have greater autonomy. It would require a court ruling to remove a child from such a family, called a CARE family.

The bill was advanced by a voice vote late Monday. A final vote is set for Tuesday.

CARE families who choose not to enroll their foster children in public school could seek reimbursement of up to $4,102 in educational expenses annually.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, the bill’s author, said that greater control and more stability around placements would encourage more people to sign up to be foster care parents.

To qualify for the program, a couple would have to be married for seven years, submit to a background check and have no history of unlawful drug use in the past seven years. No one in the home could use tobacco or keep liquor there.

Both spouses would have to have attained a high school diploma. At least one could not work outside the home.

The bill also requires that the “family is actively, regularly socially involved in their local community.”

“What we are trying to do is define homes that have the ability to meet the needs of these kids,” Knox said.

Knox has been pushing for creation of the program since last year. His original bill would have compensated CARE families at a higher rate than other foster care parents. Under this version of the bill, families would be volunteers and would not receive payment apart from the educational reimbursement.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, applauded Knox for thinking outside the norm and said the program “could help children who are desperate for help.”

Other lawmakers took exception to the requirements.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, a single mother, pointed out that she would be excluded from participating in the program. Same-sex couples, who have been allowed to marry legally statewide for less than a year, would be excluded for now by the seven-year requirement.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, brought an amendment that would have required CARE families with firearms in the home to ensure they are safely stored.

“If we really think it’s important that they don’t have tobacco ... isn’t it important that a lethal weapon is safely stored?” Pettey said.

Her amendment was voted down 26-9.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3