Report shows Kansas failing to meet commitments in foster system settlement

Kansas Department for Children and Families
Kansas Department for Children and Families(KWCH)
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 10:20 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) on Monday released its second annual report reviewing Kansas’ progress towards achieving its commitments under a settlement agreement for the state’s foster care system.

CSSP, the independent organization tasked with reviewing and assessing the state’s performance, found that in 2022, Kansase and its contractors failed to make the required improvements to the foster care system. In fact, the state regressed from its 2021 performance in several areas.

The state met four of the commitments in the settlement, and six others were unfulfilled.

The report showed Kansas foster children continue to spend nights sleeping in offices. This was one of the main practices the state was to end as part of the settlement agreement from a 2018 lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of foster children experiencing extreme placement instability and a lack of access to mental and behavioral health services. According to the report, the number of nights youth spent in offices increased by 54% from 2021 to 2022, with 85 youth spending a total of 257 nights in case management provider offices last year.

Kansas DCF, in responding to the report, said for the first half of 2023, the number of children spending a night in a provider office has decreased by more than 50 percent.

In a statement, Governor Laura Kelly said, “My administration continues to make progress in protecting Kansas kids in the foster care system and repairing the state’s child welfare system. The latest Neutral Report shows we continue to ensure kids are in stable placements and are improving how many foster youth receive necessary mental health screenings and timely access to services. But this report also makes clear that, in spite of all of our efforts, there’s much more work to be done. I am encouraged by the steps we’ve taken in 2023 to decrease temporary overnight placements and instances of kids staying in offices, but clearly, the legislature and I must dig deeper, make more targeted investments, and come up with solutions that work.”

The report also showed that Kansas missed the mark in ensuring stable placement for foster children. The state met one benchmark measuring the percentage of youth in foster care who had a stable placement at the end of 2022. The state’s performance declined for one-night and short-term placements, where children had to be quickly moved from one place to another, as well as the total number of moves the children had to make.

Leecia Welch, Children’s Rights Deputy Legal Director, said, “We were trending in the right direction, and unfortunately, this year (2022), we really went off the rails with that number. I think that it will be really important for DCF to try to understand what happened.”

“Not knowing where they’re going to sleep at night, where they will go the next day has an impact that simply can’t be conveyed by the numbers in this report,” said Kansas Appleseed Child Welfare Advocate Adina Morse.

The impact of these night office placements is seen in the mental health of foster children.

The state’s foster care system is overseen by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF), but the state contracts out most services to private providers.

Neva Benton said becoming a foster parent has become a rewarding part of her life because she and her wife loved kids. They worked with kids before becoming foster parents. Over nearly seven years, the couple built their family, adopting three of their four children from foster care and continuing to welcome other children placed in their home.

“(We grew our) family in a way that we know that not only are we able to help somebody else, but they’re helping us,” said Benton. “We’re able to be parents and be part of the lives of kids that we would of never have even seen. We also love the fact that we’re able to help with bio-families and reuniting kiddos.”

The couple continues to welcome foster children into their home. While the kids are the joyous part of the process, Benton said, the system they have to work with is a mixed bag.

“We’ve had really great experiences with them. We’ve had some where we’ve really had to go to bat and had to fight for our kiddos and things that were happening when kiddos were brought into our home,” she said.

According to the CSSP report, Kansas failed to meet its 2022 requirements for mental and behavioral health support. While performance improved over 2021, of the cases reviewed, only 43% of youth entering care were properly and timely screened for trauma and mental health needs, and only 70% had their mental and behavioral health needs addressed. The target goal was 85%.

One of the biggest challenges has been finding providers who are able to provide consistent services.

“How small the pool of providers even is that can do that for these kids who are trauma-informed and who are consistent because we’ve even had it where we’ve gone through mental health services here and our kiddo had multiple therapists within a year, so how do they trust that when they can’t even trust where they’re going to be from month to month in the same placement,” Benton said.

Although Kansas established a Family Mobile Response Crisis Helpline, the report found it is not yet assisting many children.

Benton said one of the things people can do is advocate for these improvements.

“We need to be the ones that are on the front lines that you need to do this. If me, as a foster parent, if I wasn’t holding to the agreement I made with the state, they would let me know,” she said.

Another area where the state is not meeting the commitment is in a statewide data system. Currently, the providers operate on different platforms, which makes it hard to share data with the state or foster parents. Benton said it was something she experienced seen firsthand.

“That’s how I feel kids get lost and information gets lost, and we’re not doing them as good of a service. We all upgrade our phones every one to two years, but working with the children’s lives and we haven’t upgraded that system in 20, 30 plus years, and it’s making it harder for the workers to be able to do their job and it’s harder for the kids to be able to have the information that they need,” Benton said.

The state said it is working on the process of implementing a statewide data system with an RFP process started.

This report comes as the contracts with private providers for foster care services end in 2024. The child welfare and rights groups and attorneys said what they would like to see is more collaboration from the groups involved - state and providers - to make the necessary changes to improve the system and services children are receiving.

“Obviously, everybody wants to spend their time, energy and money in a positive way, if possible, rather than a negative way. Part of the whole system with the Neutral is to try to figure out what’s going on and make improvements. Ultimately, if the state can’t make those improvements, then the plaintiffs do have the ability to go back to the court and seek the court’s enforcement. That’s something that is a possibility, but obviously, everybody would like to spend the resources in a more positive way,” said Kansas Appleseed Litigation Director Teresa Woody.