State Representative Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, says her 19-year-old daughter she adopted two years ago inspired her to file two bills about foster care and adoption. The duo of bills, passed by the Missouri Legislature this year and signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, give more Missouri foster and adoptive children a chance to find permanent homes.

State Rep. Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) speaks on the Missouri House floor on April 12, 2021 (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

“My daughter saying, ‘Nobody wants to be in foster care’ still rings in my head and my heart to this day,” says Kelly. “She has an incredible story that has touched my life forever and left me changed. Someday I’m going to be done in politics and someday I won’t be selling real estate anymore and all of the money I made and all of those good laws I helped pass won’t matter as much as the relationship I had the chance to foster being her adoptive mom.”

Her daughter’s biological mother died when the child was a teenager. The girl went into the foster care system for a few years before finding her way to Kelly.

The two bills Kelly filed will help foster and adoptive parents who open their hearts and their homes to children in need. Under House Bill 429, foster parents will be allowed an income tax deduction for expenses related to caring for the foster child.

For those who provide care for at least six months during a tax year, the total amount of the deduction could be up to $5,000 per taxpayer or $2,500 per individual if married and filing separately. Those who provide care for less than six months during a tax year, the maximum deduction limit will still apply but the limits will be reduced on a prorated basis.

Currently, any Missourian who adopts a special needs child in this state is eligible for a $10,000 tax credit. Kelly’s other proposal, House Bill 430, will expand to give the tax credit to anyone who adopts a Missouri child – not just kids with special needs.

“We want to support both of those lanes, so to speak, to make sure that these kids know that they’ve got support,” she says. “So, if we can just keep working to make sure that we get these kids permanency – we don’t hold them back – that’s time well spent. If we just keep life with that view in mind on their behalf, then we’ll have been able to say that we did something good.”

The legislation would also let social workers know if someone with a criminal history has given birth to a child. The state can then let the person know about services available to assist the parent. The information would be shared with the parent on a completely voluntary basis.

“If we can help someone who has a baby be able to be successful with that child, that’s a win. That’s a huge win,” says Kelly. “So, the goal with the Birth Match Program is largely 99.9% preventative work.”

Gov. Parson signed the bills into law in April. To celebrate the bill signings, Kelly kept a tradition going that she has in her professional life – shopping the sale rack for a new pair of shoes.

“And they’re going to be blue in honor of fighting for our kids everyday here in Missouri,” she told Missourinet in April.

Kelly credits House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, and a line of other lawmakers for prioritizing these bills this session. Vescovo, who was once in the child welfare system, vowed to not allow the bills to get lost in the political machine.

According to Kelly, the other reason she filed the bills is because of Missouri’s children she considers to be “uncounted” – those who are diverted away from the child welfare system without a case being opened on them. They might instead be in the care of a relative or a teacher, for instance.

In 2020, the Missouri Legislature passed House Bill 1414. The legislation requires the Missouri Department of Social Services to start a process to ensure all “uncounted” kids are actually counted. The wide-ranging child welfare bill was sponsored by former Representative Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph.

Kelly is the chair of the Missouri Legislature’s Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. She and the committee have been working for more than one year to get the Department to tally the number of uncounted children.

“My thing is how do you know how to best take care of responsibilities if you don’t know how many responsibilities you have,” she asks.

Kelly says the department is still working to calculate the number of uncounted children. House Bill 1414 became law last August.

To hear a portion of the interview, click below.

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