Investigation finds DCF’s Wichita staff improperly shared confidential data with FaithBuilders

Staff members at the Department of Children and Family’s Wichita office violated rules by improperly sharing confidential information with the Wichita nonprofit FaithBuilders, an investigation has found.
Staff members at the Department of Children and Family’s Wichita office violated rules by improperly sharing confidential information with the Wichita nonprofit FaithBuilders, an investigation has found. The Wichita Eagle

A three-month investigation spurred by complaints concluded that a state agency overseeing the welfare of children allowed personal relationships with the head of FaithBuilders to result in improper sharing of confidential information.

But the Kansas Department for Children and Families said in its report made public Monday that it would resume allowing children to be placed with the Wichita nonprofit’s homes. Placement of children with the 30 respite and foster care homes was suspended Oct. 24 pending outcome of the investigation.

Staff members at DCF’s Wichita office violated agency rules by providing Andrea Dixon, founder and executive director of FaithBuilders, “more information on certain cases than was appropriate” and by “giving unnecessary deference” to Dixon and FaithBuilders in child placement decisions, according to a supplemental investigation.

The investigation also “demonstrated the need for a greater oversight of relationships,” DCF’s report said.

Information released Monday came in two parts: DCF’s 12-page report on its internal investigation that was concluded on Dec. 27; and a review of complaints and that investigation made by Brad Burke, chief attorney for the state’s labor department.

Burke provided his findings to DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore in a five-page letter dated Jan. 8.

“The report represents a comprehensive effort to answer the questions raised, both through internal and independent review processes,” Gilmore said in a statement. “A few DCF staff members within the Wichita Region violated DCF policies and procedures.

“They have been held accountable. I truly believe this is an isolated situation and all appropriate action has been taken. At no point were there any allegations of abuse or neglect.”

Diane Bidwell resigned as director of the Wichita office on Oct. 14 – the day before an initial review of complaints was presented to Gilmore. DCF has said Bidwell’s resignation was voluntary.

Carol Baker, the foster care administrator for the Wichita office, was placed on administrative leave in mid-October. She is still employed by DCF, according to agency spokeswoman Theresa Freed.

Dixon and FaithBuilders are not employed by DCF and so could not violate its policies, Burke noted.

Lynn Ward, board president for FaithBuilders, issued a statement saying the DCF review “fully vindicated” FaithBuilders.

She called DCF’s decision to allow placements in her organization’s homes “good news.”

“FaithBuilders has homes available right now to take in children; homes that have sat empty for several months, waiting for the DCF review to be completed,” she said.

She added that the group was “truly saddened to learn that some DCF workers were being disciplined for working with FaithBuilders in trying to help kids.”

Bidwell could not be reached for comment.

Confidential information

FaithBuilders doesn’t place children but works with Lawrence-based DCCCA to provide help for children and families, including serving as foster and respite care homes.

DCF contracts with St. Francis Community Services, which in turn has a contract with DCCCA. DCCCA provides a variety of human services.

Burke said in his evaluation that the “evidence paints a clear picture that Andrea Dixon and FaithBuilders utilized personal relationships to aid FaithBuilders in its mission.”

Some initial complaints centered on release of confidential information to Dixon by Bidwell and on Dixon using her relationship with Bidwell to have children directed to FaithBuilders homes.

A summary of the findings said four children were placed after DCF staff allowed Dixon to have “inappropriate input on placement decisions.”

From 2010 until Dec. 27, there were 27,817 foster care and family preservation cases assigned to DCF in Sedgwick County; 70 were identified as involving FaithBuilders, the report said. Some of those cases may have been counted more than once because some children come in the system, leave and are returned to state custody.

Nine cases involved inappropriate sharing of confidential information with FaithBuilders, the report said.

239,000 e-mails

Burke also reviewed four major complaints outlined in a Sept. 3 letter sent to the DCF by Mary Dean, a Wichita community activist.

Her complaint that FaithBuilders is “selling black babies and children to the highest bidder” was determined to be unfounded by the investigation, Burke wrote in his letter.

Dean’s charge that Dixon and FaithBuilders “have the power to override decisions” by other authorities also was not found to be true, Burke said.

But Burke said he agreed that Dixon “exercised unnecessary influence over DCF placement decisions in the Wichita area.”

Dean’s fourth allegation, that Dixon and FaithBuilders “actively promote adoption of ‘at-risk’ children instead of working to place” them with their biological families, could not be substantiated, Burke said.

In conducting its investigation, DCF said it searched 239,000 e-mails and more than 1,200 pages of documents to determine how the agency’s staff allowed Dixon access to private information. “A fraction (.05 percent) of the searched documents revealed concerns,” the report said.

State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, followed up Dean’s letter in September by asking the agency to look into concerns. Faust-Goudeau provided a list of families that were possibly affected, the report said, but no family made a formal complaint.

“Child welfare workers are afraid to step forward because they’re afraid of losing their jobs,” Dean said after reading the report.

But at the same time, she said nothing can be done if those workers and families don’t go public with their concerns.

“So here we go again,” Dean said. “The same problems they complain about will continue to exist because they won’t put their names and faces out there.”

Faust-Goudeau said she had not read the report and so couldn’t comment.

‘Serious effort’

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said the investigations were “better than I expected.”

“I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “It looks like a serious effort. It addressed one of the concerns I had about FaithBuilders being too cozy (with DCF). They were getting too much inside information.”

Ward said he still has concerns about “bumps” in the process since St. Francis took over the contract with DCF on July 1, replacing Youthville.

DCF’s report included outlining steps that are being taken to tighten up oversight. Those measures included additional training for DCF social workers.

In an unrelated matter, Dixon is challenging DCF’s recommendation that a 2-year-old girl be placed in the South Carolina home of the child’s great-grandmother. Dixon has had the girl in her home as a foster child since two days after she was born.

A hearing was held in Sedgwick County District Court on Jan. 7 and was continued until April 14.

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