FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) –A Senate panel moved legislation today that would reform Kentucky’s system of guardians ad litem, lawyers appointed by the court to represent the best interests of children involved in the judicial process.
The measure, known as Senate Bill 205, would create the Department of Child and Family Advocacy, modeled after Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsored SB 205.
“The intent is to have an agency with a clearly defined mission, set of standards and operating principles that can effectively, efficiently and uniformly provide representation to the commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens,” McDaniel said while testifying before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.
SB 205, as amended by the committee today, would be paid for by more efficiently using the $15 million currently spent on guardians ad litem in addition to federal tax dollars. McDaniel said Kentucky is not currently eligible for those federal funds because it does not have the required guardian ad litem structure.
McDaniel outlined the troubled history of the guardian ad litem system in Kentucky. In September 1998, the state auditor found Kentucky could be more effective in the monitoring of, duties of and payments to guardians ad litem. Further, the 1998 report found that guardians ad litem, judges and family service workers all have different perceptions of the actual duties performed by the guardians ad litem. Key participants in juvenile proceedings also questioned whether all the guardians ad litem performed the required independent research or adequately investigated their cases.
Last month, a finance cabinet audit found that no single agency is responsible for ensuring consistency relating to the appointment of private attorneys as guardians ad litem. Depending on which court they are before, guardians ad litem can be paid $250 or $500 for the same caseload.
“The fact is it has been established for 20 years that what we are doing is not best serving children and the vulnerable,” McDaniel said. “Those are the people that as members of government we are most charged to help.”
He stressed that he thought Kentucky’s judges and current guardians ad litem do the best they can in “what is frankly a flawed system.”
SB 205 would create a commission made up of two members appointed by the governor, one by the attorney general, one by the House speaker and one by the Senate president. The committee would be responsible for recommending three names to the governor to become Kentucky’s first child and family advocate. That person would be charged with operating a completely independent agency with regional offices.
“There are a lot of technicalities inside of the bill … but that is the essence of Senate Bill 205,” McDaniel said.
Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier also testified on SB 205.
“We are just here to express our support for this direction,” he said of SB 205’s intent. “I think it helps with creating more uniformity and consistency across the state with how the children are served and represented by guardians ad litem.”
SB 205 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.
Media Release from the Legislative Research Commission