Gov. Laura Kelly signed a wide-ranging child welfare bill that establishes a foster care bill of rights and a baby box drop-off system, legislation meant to patch up some of the cracks within the state’s child welfare system.

“I am pleased to sign this bill into law not only to empower our youth and families in our foster care system, but to honor the legacy of one of our state’s great leaders, Representative Gail Finney,” Kelly said. “She was a warrior for our children – particularly those from underrepresented and minority communities – and worked tirelessly to improve foster care in our state.”

The legislative bundle passed the Senate 36-1 and the House 116-0. It establishes a foster care bill of rights named in memorial to Finney, an advocate for reform to the foster care system. The Wichita Democrat died last year.

Under the bill of rights, children would be told about their right to a stable environment, right to experience the least number of placements possible, have access to adequate clothing and other belongings, conduct family visits, live with family when possible, attend school and participate in court proceedings, among other things.

The measure also provides foster families and relatives of foster children greater access to case information and more of a voice in case decisions. 

Supporters of the bill of rights say it will provide some much-needed clarity to foster youths and foster parents trying to navigate the complex foster care system. 

“For too long, those most impacted by the foster care system — our kids — lacked the resources they needed to protect themselves,” said Rep. Susan Concannon, R- Beloit. “Establishing a Foster Care Bill of Rights solves that problem. I am pleased by this bipartisan effort to come together to honor Representative Gail Finney, who fought for a more just foster care system, in such a fitting way.”

Another portion of the bill legalizes “newborn safety devices” for baby drop-offs, with the goal of making child relinquishment safer and easier. In counties that choose to install the devices, people who drop off infants to these devices within the 60-day legal window for relinquishment would be immune to criminal and civil liabilities.

The devices would be equipped with locks, temperature control and alarm systems and installed in facilities designated for infant drop-offs, such as police stations.  

Another provision in the legislation creates more oversight in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment program for child abuse review and evaluation referrals. The program would provide regulations and training for these CARE evaluation processes and DCF would be required to make a CARE referral for a child ages 5 or younger when there is an allegation of physical abuse or physical neglect.

“Abused and neglected children in Kansas have brighter futures today,” said Darcy Olsen, CEO of the Center for the Rights of Abused Children. “We were privileged to work with leaders in Kansas on the Representative Gail Finney Memorial Foster Care Bill of Rights.”

The results of the CARE exam would also have to be considered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families secretary when making recommendations for the child’s care and placement.

“This legislation will save lives,” said Emily Killough and Jennifer Hansen, spokeswoman for the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “HB 2024 allows a child abuse medical expert to review case information for each alleged child abuse and neglect report for children under 6 to help identify which children may benefit from a medical evaluation. And, it will expand the medical network allowing more children to receive medical care in their own communities.”