After weeks of hearings, a Kansas House committee agrees Kansas Foster Care System needs fixing.
Kansas has plenty of reports on problems in its foster care system but needs a plan to fix them, according to members of a House committee.
The House Children and Seniors Committee voted earlier this month to create a foster care task force that will present a plan for improvements to the foster care system by January.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, said the state needs to do more than study the foster care system.
“This task force is not for oversight. It’s for corrective action,” he said.
Since 2014, a record number of Kansas children have entered the foster care system. At the end of January, more than 6,800 children were in the state’s custody.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families oversees the system, which faced some criticism from the Legislature’s independent auditing team last summer.
The committee heard testimony over several weeks about problems in the state’s system from foster parents, law enforcement, court officials and child welfare advocates. Those issues include difficulty getting accurate information about children, delays for mental health care and concerns that social workers had too many cases to handle.
In addition to those issues, the committee wants the task force to examine:
• The number of children placed in their home county, which can make it easier to visit family and continue school activities.
• How long children stayed in foster care.
• The number of children, if any, who were mistreated while in foster care.
• If any children were arrested after leaving foster care.
• How much school children in foster care missed.
The task force also will examine requirements for foster parents, and the two private contractors that operate the state’s foster care system: KVC Behavioral Healthcare and Saint Francis Community Services.
Theresa Freed, a DCF spokeswoman, said Tuesday in an e-mail that the department “has made substantial progress in addressing concerns raised by Legislative Post Audit, and we continue improve upon our already safe system.”
DCF’s foster care system already has oversight by federal agencies, Legislative Post Audit, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and 13 task forces, work groups or boards, wrote Kathy Armstrong, assistant general counsel for prevention and protection services at DCF.
“It must be noted that an additional task force may result in duplication and diminished efficiency in light of all federal and state agency and court oversight of the child welfare system already in place,” she said in written testimony.
The senate used some legislative maneuvering they hope will prevent the task force measure from getting bogged down in the legislative process, but so far the bill seems to have the support of both the House and the Senate. If approved, the The 18-member task force would have 12 legislators and six people appointed by legislative leaders.
This article was written by Meg Wingerter a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. kcur.org.