Secrecy inside child welfare system can kill: ‘God help the children of Kansas’

Source: Laura Bauer, Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017

… An agency charged with protecting kids instead focused on protecting itself. An agency where a former high-level DCF supervisor told The Star she was instructed not to document anything after a child’s death and to shred notes after meetings so attorneys and reporters couldn’t get them through open records requests. An agency where even lawmakers insist DCF officials are intentionally misleading them and providing information the Legislature can’t trust. In the end, Kansas children continue to die without a public review of what contact state social workers had with the families — whether they did enough and whether policies and procedures were followed. …

In a months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government and how it harms residents, The Star found a pervasive effort inside DCF to hide behind privacy laws and internal procedures to keep the public from knowing how it operates. Those practices are particularly acute in cases where children are seriously injured or killed by parents and guardians who were known to the agency. For the past year, DCF has refused to answer questions on topics ranging from open records and the death of specific children to runaways in foster care. During the course of The Star’s reporting on widespread problems within the agency, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore announced her retirement effective Dec. 1. …


For Kansas foster care task force, report of missing children latest concern
Source: Madeline Fox, Wyandotte Daily, October 12, 2017

The news that about 70 children are missing from the Kansas foster care system is the latest in a string of concerns for lawmakers and child welfare advocates. Concern for the safety of children, heavy caseloads for social workers and a lack of coordination in the system prompted lawmakers earlier this year to form the Child Welfare Task Force, which heard about the missing children during a meeting Tuesday in Topeka. The foster care system, overseen by the Kansas Department for Children and Families, was privatized 20 years ago after it failed court-ordered reviews. Care is now overseen by two contractors: St. Francis Community Services in western Kansas, and KVC Health Systems in eastern Kansas. …

More than 70 foster children missing in Kansas
Source: Jonathan Shorman and Hunter Woodall, Wichita Eagle, October 10, 2017
More than 70 foster children are missing in Kansas, the companies running the state’s foster care system said Tuesday.  Lawmakers were concerned that Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore appeared unaware that three sisters have been missing from a northeast Kansas foster home since Aug. 26.  Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, told a child welfare task force meeting that when she raised the missing children with DCF on Tuesday, the agency knew nothing. … KVC Kansas, one of the foster care contractors, said it has 38 missing children. The other company, Saint Francis Community Services, said 36 are missing in its system.  Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer at KVC Kansas, one of the contractors, told a child welfare task force that the number of missing represented about 1 percent of the foster care population and is in line with the national average.  Still, he acknowledged the contractor could do a better job. …

Kansas Lawmakers Advancing Bill for Oversight of Foster Care
Source: Associated Press, May 12, 2017

Kansas lawmakers have advanced a bill that would increase their oversight of the state’s privatized foster care system and the contractors running it.  The House gave first-round approval to the measure Friday on a voice vote. Members planned to take another vote to determine whether the proposal goes to the Senate.  The bill would create an 18-member task force to collect data from the state Department for Children and Families on the foster care system and its contractors and to make recommendations for improvement. …


Kansas House Committee Approves Foster Care Task Force
Source: Allison Kite, Associated Press, May 9, 2017
A House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow Kansas lawmakers to more closely oversee the state’s privatized foster care system and the contractors that run it amid questions about how the state monitors the program.  The bill passed by the House Children and Seniors Committee would create an 18-member foster care task force to study the system.  The task force would collect data from the Kansas Department for Children and Families on the foster care system and its contractors and make recommendations for improvement. …

Audit finds problems in privatized foster care system, faults DCF for lax oversight
Source: Peter Hancock, Lawrence Journal World, April 28, 2017
The private nonprofit agencies that manage Kansas’ foster care system do not have the capacity in many parts of the state to handle the volume of cases they deal with, and the Kansas Department for Children and Families often does not conduct adequate oversight of those contractors.  Those are the findings of a Legislative Post Audit report on the foster care program that was delivered to lawmakers Friday.  However, auditors also said there would be enormous costs for the state if it decided to take back control and operation of the program itself. The report was the third and final part of a comprehensive audit that lawmakers ordered following two deaths in 2014 of children who were in the foster care system. …

Kansas DCF Counsel Says Privatized Foster Care Lead Agencies’ Bundled Payments May Be A Conflict Of Interest
Source: Open Minds, December 11, 2016 (Abstract)

In testimony to the Kansas Foster Care Adequacy Committee on November 16, 2016, counsel for the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) said the bundled payment structure for state’s current foster care lead agencies contracts could create conflicts of interest. The concern is that the non-profit lead agencies currently have a financial incentive to place children in foster homes recruited by the lead agency, whether or not the foster home is the most appropriate for the child.

DCF counsel says foster care system may create financial ‘clash’ for contractors
Source: Meg Wingerter, Kansas Health Institute, November 16, 2016

State officials acknowledged during a legislative hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse that the organizations overseeing and placing children in foster homes may have financial conflicts of interest. Kasey Rogg, deputy general counsel for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, told a legislative committee that the current system of bundled payments encourages the state’s private contractors to spend less on services for children in foster care. Placement agencies also have incentives to put foster children in homes that might not be appropriate, he said. … Kansas privatized its foster care and adoption systems in 1997 after a class-action lawsuit alleged that DCF’s predecessor, the Kansas Department for Social and Rehabilitation Services, failed to adequately care for children in its custody. Some legislators have questioned the decision in the past year after several high-profile child deaths in foster care. Two private contractors, KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Community Services, administer services for children in foster care and subcontract with child placement agencies and other organizations. The state pays a bundled rate for all services provided for children in foster care — such as developing plans for children aging out of the system and providing respite care for families and counseling for children with mental health needs — which could push the contractors to increase their profits by using less funding for those services, Rogg said. …

Kansas foster mother calls audit of state system ‘devastating’
Source: Kelly Eckerman, KMBC, July 28, 2016

A Kansas foster parent calls the latest audit of the state’s foster care system devastating, but she believes that it can be fixed. … Incomplete background checks of foster parents and a lack of monthly in-person visits were two areas highlighted in the audit. The report potentially affects more than 6,300 children in the Kansas foster system, an all-time high. The Kansas system is privatized, which Hiatt said makes it complicated. She said that while the agency that she works with seems to follow the rules, Kansas needs more oversight. … Wednesday’s report was the first set of results released from the audit. Additional findings expected to be released in the fall, will likely focus more specifically on the agencies contracted by the state. The Kansas secretary of children and families, Phyllis Gilmore, said a federal review indicated that Kansas had the second-safest system in the nation. …

Audit blasts Kansas foster care system over missed visits, background checks
Source: Jonathan Shorman, Topeka Capital-Journal, July 27, 2016

Auditors released a scathing review of the state’s foster care system Wednesday, revealing that the Department for Children and Families doesn’t check the backgrounds of people in foster homes as often as needed, doesn’t ensure monthly in-person visits take place, and grants nearly all requests for exceptions to rules governing foster homes. … According to the audit, while case management staff are required to conduct monthly in-person visits with children in foster care, the visits don’t always occur. Auditors reviewed 194 cases during fiscal year 2015 and found that for 59 percent, they couldn’t determine whether a visit had occurred because of poor documentation. The report also said that for most cases reviewed, auditors couldn’t determine whether the foster care contractors had conducted their own visits. Gilmore acknowledged documentation had been poor but said that didn’t prove visits were missed. … A lack of monthly in-person visits was among allegations raised in a federal lawsuit against DCF and foster care contractor TFI Family Services over the 2013 death of 4-year-old Mekhi Boone. The mother of the Hiawatha boy charged that foster care workers hadn’t made required visits before the boy’s beating death at the hands of his father. …

Editorial: Audit Overdue
Source: Lawrence Journal-World, January 21, 2016

Amid various questions about how the Kansas Department for Children and Families is handling foster care and adoptions in the state, Kansas legislators last week took the prudent action of ordering an audit of those DCF services. … The audit will include two questions specifically aimed at the impact of foster care and adoption privatization on Kansas children and families involved with that system and whether privatization has “significantly affected the cost of those services to the state.” …

Lawmaker wants to nix current foster care program
Source: Jonathan Shorman, Garden City Telegram, December 20, 2015

A Republican lawmaker’s report calls for the end of Kansas’ current privatized foster care system — an idea coming as the 20th anniversary of the private system looms and the agency in charge faces mounting scrutiny. Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, wrote in a report entitled “When Children Die We Must Act” that his overall impression was the mid-90s privatization of foster care wasn’t a success. … According to the report, the state spends about $283 million every two years on foster care, excluding payments to foster parents. The report found a substantial duplication of work between contractors and DCF analogous to an extra level of hierarchy. The report called case worker turnover a serious problem and noted a 37 percent turnover rate for one contractor. Currently, the state contracts with KVC and St. Francis. The turnover creates extra work for DCF employees, disrupts judicial procedures and increases expenses, the document said. The report concluded the contractors must have healthy profit margins — which add to the cost per case — because a CEO of one of the contractors makes $650,000 per year. The document also said the work product of the contractors doesn’t appear to merit the expense.

Kansas social workers call for review of privatized child welfare system
Source: Peter Hancock, Lawrence Journal-World, December 13, 2015

Kansas lawmakers have tentatively agreed to authorize a wide-ranging audit of current practices within the Department for Children and Families, including its management of foster care services and whether the agency is routinely discriminating against gay and lesbian families when placing children in either temporary or permanent homes. But some who have worked within the system say the problems at DCF go beyond its current policies and practices. Although conditions have become noticeably worse in recent years, they say, the root of the problem dates back to a decision made nearly 20 years ago to privatize the state’s child welfare system. … In response, DCF announced last month that it has started hiring other kinds of professionals to perform the jobs of social workers, including people with advanced degrees in psychology, counseling, and marriage and family counseling. But both the agency and its contractors have also started hiring for positions that require no degree at all, “special investigators,” as they are called at DCF, and “family support workers,” as they’re called by KVC Behavioral Healthcare Kansas, the contractor for the eastern Kansas region, including Douglas County. They work under the supervision of licensed social workers and perform some of the tasks previously reserved for licensed workers, such as making home visits and interviewing people involved in abuse and neglect cases.

Kansas services are corroding on Gov. Sam Brownback’s watchSource: Barbara Shelly, Kansas City Star, December 10, 2015

Kansas’ child protection system is under fire on a number of fronts, so it came as no surprise when news services reported recently that Michael Myers, director of prevention and protection services, was leaving the Department for Children and Families. What struck me as curious was that he was there at all. Myers came to the agency in 2011 without the usual background in child protection, social work or state government. His job experience was in property development and construction management in Topeka. …

Kansas Legislators Call For Scrutiny Of Foster Care Contractors
Source: Andy Marso, KCUR, November 18, 2015

The Kansas Department for Children and Families announced major changes to its standards for substantiating child abuse Tuesday. But lawmakers want more reform of a privatized foster care system they say is failing to protect children. DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore announced that the agency will begin using a “preponderance of the evidence” as the standard for substantiating a child abuse claim rather than the more stringent “clear and convincing evidence.” … After Gilmore’s announcement, legislators suggested the foster care system still needs a deeper look. Democrats pushed for an audit of the system in July, but it narrowly failed when five Republicans voted it down. At Tuesday’s hearing, though, the majority party members expressed serious concerns as well. … The foster care system has been privatized since 1997, and DCF now works with two contractors, KVC Behavioral Healthcare of Olathe and St. Francis Community Services of Salina. A subcontractor, Topeka-based TFI, handled Kaddillak’s case, and DCF briefly halted new foster care placements with that agency after her death last year. In recent years the state has consistently set records for the number of Kansas children in foster care, topping 6,000 last year.

Legislative committee denies request for audit of foster care system
Source: Bryan Lowry, Wichita Eagle, July 29, 2015

A legislative committee on Wednesday voted down a request for an audit into Kansas’ foster care system. The request was brought by House Democrats in response to recent media coverage of cases where children have died either when placed in a foster care home or after being reunited with family members. Democrats requested that the audit begin in August so that data would be available by the start of the next legislative session. The Legislative Post Audit Committee voted down the request 5-4, splitting along party lines. A second vote to keep the proposal alive so it could possibly be revisited passed with bipartisan support. The cases that raised concern included the death of a 10-year-old boy in Wellington five days after the Department for Children and Families had been alerted to problems in the home. The boy’s mother has been charged with first degree murder. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who brought forth the request along with Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, argued that privatization of the foster care system in recent years had lessened state oversight and that an audit was needed to determine whether the DCF had ensured the safety of children in the system.