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Feb 13, 1:44 PM EST

Kentucky to pay family members serving as foster parents

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) -- Kentucky officials say they will pay $14.3 million to the caregivers of more than 1,500 children in state custody to comply with a federal court ruling mandating they pay family members and close friends in the same manner as licensed foster parents.

The payments will begin later this month to about 15 caregivers. But officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services say they expect the ruling to impact 1,590 children in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2019. The following fiscal year, state officials say they expect the ruling to impact 1,700 children and cost about $15.3 million.

"After a seemingly interminable delay, this is really good news for Kentucky's families," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Kentucky has about 8,500 children in state custody, a record number state officials say is climbing in part because of the opioid epidemic.

The ruling was prompted from a lawsuit filed by a Kentucky family. It involved two young boys who state officials say were neglected by their mother. The aunt, identified only as R.O., was eventually awarded joint custody along with the mother, yet the boys continued to live with the aunt.

The aunt asked for the same monthly payments the state pays its licensed foster parents who are not related to the children they care for, but was denied. She sued, and won in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In a news release Tuesday, state officials say specialists are reviewing cases to determine which families qualify for the payments. According to the court ruling, relative caregivers qualify if the state has retained custody of the child and has conducted a home study and background check on the family providing the care.

People who think they might be eligible for these payments can call the Cabinet for Health and Family Services at 877-565-5608 or email DCBSChildProtection@ky.gov.

"I think it's really incumbent on the cabinet that they reach out aggressively to affected families rather than simply assuming or waiting for affected families to reach out to them," Brooks said. "I'm happy that we're moving in this direction."

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