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Judge asks state to review some adoption-recommendation cases

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, at 6:29 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, at 6:40 a.m.

The state agency charged with handling child welfare has been asked by a Sedgwick County juvenile court judge to review some cases that were handled by the former director of the agency’s Wichita office.

Judge Tim Henderson confirmed Monday that he asked the Kansas Department of Children and Families last week to look into six to 12 cases involving adoptions where Diane Bidwell’s recommendation to the court is being challenged or is expected to be.

He said the request is standard as part of a management change.

“I’ve asked DCF to review decisions made by Ms. Bidwell to see if that is still the direction the DCF wants to take, to try to avoid unnecessary litigation,” said Henderson, the presiding judge of the county’s four-member juvenile court. “It’s always important to get our children to adoption as quickly as possible.”

Bidwell resigned last month as head of the agency’s Wichita regional office after 2 1/2 years in the position. Her resignation came days after DCF officials said they were investigating complaints that the Wichita office was directing children to FaithBuilders’ foster care homes and improperly providing confidential information to FaithBuilders.

DCF officials have said Bidwell’s resignation was voluntary and unrelated to the investigation. The agency completed a preliminary review Oct. 10, but is in the process of conducting a more thorough review, DCF officials said.

Carol Baker, the foster care administrator for the Wichita office, was placed on administrative leave the same week Bidwell resigned, DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said Monday.

“Her employment status is under review,” she said.

Henderson said he didn’t know if the cases he requested to be reviewed involved FaithBuilders. More than 1,200 children are in state custody in Sedgwick County, he said.

FaithBuilders is a Wichita nonprofit that has about 25 foster care homes. Last week, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore wrote a letter to some legislators stating that she was suspending placements with FaithBuilders homes until the review is complete.

Through its attorney and on its Facebook page, FaithBuilders has denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

The cases that Henderson is asking the DCF to review involve children whose parental rights have been severed and who are being considered for adoption.

That process involves a recommendation to the court from the agency contracted by the state to handle such matters. Youthville had that contract prior to July 1; Saint Francis Community Services has the contract now.

The recommendation is formed by input from the contracted agency’s staff, plus information gained from other parties. Bidwell sometimes would disagree with those recommendations without a sound basis, some social workers have told The Eagle.

Some families fought back in court against Bidwell’s objections, bringing different results.

One social worker cited a case that started in 2011 where Bidwell objected to the contracted agency’s recommendation that three siblings go to certain family. The case was appealed in court in early 2012, and the family now has the three children, the social worker said.

That case didn’t involve FaithBuilders, the social worker said.

The social workers wanted to remain anonymous for fear of what they called being “blacklisted” by the DCF.

Since requesting the review, Henderson said, the DCF has “been very cooperative, very responsive.”

Freed said in an e-mail, “We are looking into the cases.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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