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Kelly signs bipartisan bill establishing SOUL family legal permanency option for kids in foster care

TOPEKA — Governor Laura Kelly today signed House Bill 2536, establishing the Support, Opportunity, Unity, and Legal (SOUL) family legal permanency option, a fourth pathway for children 16 years or older in foster care to obtain legal permanency via a custodian of their choice.

“Every child deserves to live in a safe household with responsible adults who care about their well-being,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “With this fourth pathway, we can ensure more children have a say in the environment they grow up in and the adults who are raising them. This legislation is transformational for Kansas kids.”

Previously, children in custody of the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) had three pathways for permanency: adoption, reintegration, and appointment of a custodian. Now, children will have the ability to choose someone they trust to raise them as they enter adulthood.

“The SOUL Family permanency option means that young people who are aging out of foster care will be empowered to select the circle of caring adults who will help them as they move into adulthood,” said Kansas Department of Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard. “It is a culmination of more than two years of collaborative efforts that placed those with lived experiences at the center of the discussion in their efforts to ensure that youth coming after them had options beyond permanent custodian or another planned permanent living arrangement.”

“When young people with lived foster care experience spoke, the legislature listened with overwhelming support of the SOUL bill. This additional permanency option gives youth the freedom to select their SOUL family, providing the security and stability needed as they approach adulthood,” said Kansas State Representative Susan Concannon, District 107. “This is a game changer and I’m so proud Kansas is the first state to pass this innovative approach to permanency.”

“It is essential for young people to have adults in their lives so they have someone that they can call when they need help or when they just need a talk. I know this from my own experiences with positive relationships with adults in my life who loved me and cared for me even when I didn’t know how to love or care for myself,” said Kristen Powell, Legal and Policy Co-Chair, Kansas SOUL Family Implementation Team. “This kept me from experiencing things like prison, homelessness, drugs, drug addiction, and even death. SOUL Family gives people autonomy to decide who they want to have in their life and keep those relationships that help them heal and get out of the system.”

“This bill represents a crucial step towards providing the necessary support for the youth in our care. It recognizes that it takes a village to raise children, and regrettably, many foster youth lack that village,” said Yusef Presley, Lived Experience Expert and Criminal Legal Advisor, American Civil Liberties Union. “HB 2536 aims to offer them peace of mind, stability, and, most importantly, a supportive community to rely on in their journey towards a better future.”

“As an adoptive child, I know the pain of losing my biological family. The SOUL family permanency option can help ensure that fewer children experience this pain. And as a mom of two children, I witness daily how much they need my guidance and support as they navigate young adulthood,” said Attorney Adina Morse. “The SOUL family legal permanency option delivers a trifecta to Kansas children in foster care. One, the support of family, biological and chosen; two, a sense of belonging and security that family brings; and three, the guidance and support that all young adults need as they navigate from childhood to adulthood.”

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