LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new law in Kentucky aims to improve the state's child welfare system.
Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation for the number of reported child abuse and neglect cases, according to the latest data from the feds.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report found in 2020, 17 out of every 1,000 children in the state experience some type of child maltreatment.
Child advocacy experts said because of the pandemic, those numbers in 2020 were likely under-reported.
Lawmakers came together to pass Senate Bill 8 this session, a bipartisan bill to overhaul the system, and the governor recently signed it into law.
"Kentucky's statistics on child abuse and neglect are really not trending in the right direction," Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said.
Adams sponsored SB8.
The new law allows the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to get involved in cases sooner.
"The old paradigm was, let's move the kids out of the home and then try to fix the parents," Adams said. "What we're trying to do now is we're trying to fix the family before the problem gets too bad."
Adams said this law change will allow Child Protective Services to get involved sooner and provide resources, such as substance abuse or wraparound services, to families before they lose custody of their child.
This new law also expands on who can care for a child that's 12 months and younger. Now, a baby who is removed from their parent or guardian's care can be placed in the home of someone who has a close relationship with a baby's biological parent, sibling or half sibling.
"This opens up and allows those kinds of relationships to actually be used in a very positive way to help provide a home for kids who otherwise might have to go into a total stranger's home and foster care," said Pam Darnall, president of Family & Children's Place in Louisville.
Family & Children's Place offers a variety of services, including help for child sexual abuse and human trafficking victims.
SB8 also increased Medicaid reimbursement rates.
Right now, Medicaid only covers about one-fourth of the cost of child sexual abuse exams and left child advocacy centers to raise private funds to cover the rest.
"Over the past 20 years, the reimbursement from our Medicaid has remained the same: $538," Darnall said.
This law change increased that reimbursement rate so the exams are covered completely, allowing child advocacy centers to focus on caring for children, not fundraising.
Kentucky is a mandatory report state.
That means all adults are required by law to report if they think a child is being abused or neglected.
Reports can be made to the state, local police or local prosecutor's office.
They can also be filed online with the CHFS, but it's recommended you use the web portal so you can document your report for your records and provide a paper trail if needed.