FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A panel of state representatives took an early step forward Tuesday in efforts to improve Kentucky's struggling adoption and foster care system, but a key lawmaker acknowledged that the state's bleak budget outlook will overshadow any proposed overhaul next year.

The bipartisan panel adopted a series of recommendations as lawmakers look to introduce legislation to help improve and streamline what critics see as an overburdened and delay-filled foster care and adoption system. Lawmakers convene their 2018 session in January.

House Republican caucus chairman David Meade tempered those prospects by saying legislators are "looking at probably the most difficult budget that anyone can remember."

"We know that we can't fix all these issues in one bill or even one session," said Meade, who helped lead the panel that spent much of 2017 reviewing the adoption and foster care system.

Meade said he plans to co-sponsor a bill reflecting the months of work but acknowledged that it's unlikely all of the recommendations will make it into the legislation.

But he didn't rule out the chance that some proposals could get funded in the next budget.

"If members of the General Assembly see that the return on investment is going to be greater than what we would be spending, and when you're dealing with child welfare, I think there are ways we could show that," the Stanford Republican said.

Some proposed changes would be pricey, while others wouldn't carry much extra cost.

Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said her agency is already working to make improvements contained in some recommendations. She said the recommendations "identify a clear set of items that will greatly improve our foster care and adoption system."

The recommendations include:

—More effective efforts to recruit and retain state social workers. Those include giving social workers "suitable opportunities" for such benefits as respite leave and hazardous duty pay. It also urged efforts to seek tuition credits and/or scholarships for social workers.

—Standardize the process used by the state and independent foster care and adoption agencies to ensure a safe and appropriate home for children and an efficient placement process.

—Create comprehensive timelines for termination of parental rights cases. Officials said some stages are without end dates, putting foster care and adoptive families and children in limbo.

—Base contracts between the state Department for Community Based Services and private foster care and adoption agencies on performance.

—Establish a new legislative committee to focus exclusively on child welfare.

The effort to improve the adoption and foster care system has some influential allies.

First lady Glenna Bevin, who attended the panel's meeting Tuesday, said later that she looked forward to advocating for the adoption and foster care legislation.

"I think this is a beautiful thing," she said in a statement. "I love seeing everyone work together for Kentucky's kids."

Her husband, Gov. Matt Bevin, has vowed to overhaul the system, a personal issue for him and his wife, who tried and failed to adopt an 11-year-old girl from the state's foster care system years ago. Bevin gave social workers a 7.63 percent raise last year in his first spending plan.

But in the face of a tough upcoming budget outlook, the Republican governor has warned state agencies to prepare for spending cuts. The state's pension woes continue to loom as well. Lawmakers were told recently that Kentucky taxpayers need to pay nearly $1 billion extra over the next two years to keep solvent a retirement plan for most state workers.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the recommendations reflect the need to improve how the state cares for abused and neglected children.

"There is a pension crisis to be sure," Brooks said in a statement. "But we also have major challenges facing the system of child welfare. And that second issue merits resources and political will with the same vigor and intensity as required by the pension situation.

Kentucky has about 8,500 children in foster care statewide.