Settlement mandated report indicates Kansas’ child welfare system improving

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Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 1:06 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - According to a report mandated by a settlement with the State, Kansas’ child welfare system saw significant improvements in 2021.

The first report from the Neutral Third Party in the McIntyre class action lawsuit settlement against the State of Kansas’ child welfare system has shown that foster children in the Sunflower State have stable placements and experience fewer moves while in care.

“My administration inherited a broken child welfare system that had an unacceptable number of children in care, a lack of placement stability, and limited prevention services,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “Under my Administration, we now have 1,300 fewer children in the system, and the Neutral Report shows we have made substantial progress in making sure kids are in stable placements and experience fewer moves. There’s more work to be done, but this report shows we are headed in the right direction.”

The Kansas Department of Children and Families said the lawsuit was filed in 2018 under then Governor Jeff Colyer’s administration by Kansas Appleseed, Children’s Rights, and the National Center for Youth Law against the Governor, DCF, the Kanas Department for Aging and Disability Services and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The Governor was later dismissed from the case.

DCF said the parties then agreed to settle in 2020 to ensure the state would achieve substantial progress and compliance in performance areas over a multi-year period. It said these areas included accountability, reporting and implementation, practice and improvements and outcomes.

The Department also noted that the settlement recognizes that the outcomes and practices improvements will not all be accomplished in a single year. It said outcome goals were set for a 3- to 4-year period.

For the first report, which covered the 2021 calendar year, DCF indicated that Judith Meltzer, President of the Center for the Study of Social Policy has served as the Neutral Third Party responsible for the assessment.

“Reforming a child welfare system is a complex and multi-year endeavor,” Meltzer said. “During this first year, Kansas has made considerable progress in addressing some fundamental problems and has started down a path that we anticipate will lead to further improvements in the years ahead and to sustainable and meaningful improvements for Kansas children and families.”

DCF indicated that the state made significant progress in placement stability in 2021, validated by Neutral’s benchmarks for placement stability and placement moves. It said children in care experienced about 5.84 moves per 1,000 days - more than the benchmark’s 7 moves per 1,000 days.

The report also found that 86% of Kansas children were in stable placement during 2021, which surpassed Neutral’s 80% benchmark.

“The report affirms our commitment to Kansas children by continuing efforts to build an effective child welfare system,” DCF Secretary Laura Howard said. “Using tools like kinship placements, partnerships with community agencies to provide trauma-informed support to foster parents and prioritizing families over facilities, these have all had a positive impact on this issue.”

However, the state admitted that there is still more work to do in both temporary overnight placements and night-to-night or short-term placements. It said those who experience a failure to place often have complex developmental, medical, behavioral or safety needs.

DCF said it is working to build capacity through several new initiatives. It said it has created the Failure to Place Prevention Network which is meant to create stand0by service beds and other ways for family foster homes to serve one child at a time. It said it has also addressed gaps with the addition of Therapeutic Foster Homes which launched in 2022.

The report also found that Kansas achieved several accountability benchmarks mandated by the settlement, including:

  • Amending case management provider contracts to clarify responsibilities arising from the settlement
  • Creating an independent advisory group to inform planning and program improvement
  • Collecting and reporting data on Class Members placed in a jail, correctional or detention facility

DCF also said state agencies have also made significant progress in mental health practice improvements and outcomes despite not reaching the 2021 benchmarks. Those areas are as follows:

  • DCF approved a contract with Beacon Health Options to create the Mobile Family Crisis Helpline which launched in Oct. of 2021.
  • Unvalidated period 2 data shows significant improvement in addressing mental and behavioral health needs with nearly 80% of Class Members having their needs met.

“Addressing mental and behavioral health needs is vital if we are to have a strong child and family well-being system,” Howard said. “We know there is more work to do to strengthen the timely and consistent access to mental health assessments and reviews.”

DCF said it and its partner agencies will continue to collaborate with the Center for the Study of Social Policy to ensure valid data and look forward to showing more progress in the second report in 2023.

To see the full Calendar Year 2021 report, click HERE.