Politics & Government

Foster care system doesn’t meet two-thirds of requirements, audit finds

Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, answers questions in July about the audit of her department at a Post Audit Committee meeting in Topeka.
Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, answers questions in July about the audit of her department at a Post Audit Committee meeting in Topeka. File photo

The state’s foster care system complies with only about a third of the federal requirements assessed by state auditors, according to a report released Wednesday.

The findings come after a July audit that found the state system failed to ensure the safety of kids in foster care. The July findings prompted some Democrats to call for the resignation of the secretary for the Department for Children and Families, which oversees Kansas’ privatized foster care system.

Wednesday’s report found that the Department for Children and Families did not consistently meet requirements aimed at providing stability for children. For example, sometimes a child’s schoolwork is disrupted because the system does not try to keep the child in the same school district or school.

The state also didn’t meet requirements for the percentage of children who should be adopted within one to two years after entering into foster care, according to the audit.

But it did consistently meet federal requirements about placing children with relatives and siblings.

Three-part audit

These audits are part of a three-part investigation.

The first audit focused on safety concerns. The second part, released Wednesday, focused on compliance with applicable state and federal laws governing the foster care system. The final portion of the audit will research foster care costs, resources and outcomes. That audit will be released next year.

Wednesday’s findings showed the Department for Children and Families did not meet all federal requirements related to monitoring and paying the private companies it contracts with to provide foster care.

And self-reported data showed Kansas met or exceeded about half of the federal outcome requirements for fiscal year 2016, which ended in June.

A federal audit revealed the Department for Children and Families was in compliance with about a third of the areas assessed and “not in substantial compliance” with the other two-thirds.    

The audit in July revealed that foster parents received initial background checks, but other people in the home did not; not all children received monthly case-management visits; and the Department for Children and Families did not ensure that licensed foster homes had enough money to care for the child.

Addressing issues

Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, spoke Wednesday to legislators about efforts to resolve the issues highlighted in the July report and ways it’s already working to resolve the issues brought up in Wednesday’s report.

She talked about bolstering social worker recruitment and training and gave updates on regulation changes at the state level. One included expanding background checks for everyone over the age of 10 in a child’s home. The state previously required background checks only for foster parents.

Gilmore also said the agency plans to receive real-time updates on arrests or charges against people living in the child’s home. And the department will submit an improvement plan to the federal government about how it will address areas where it was not in compliance.

She also tried to address concerns from legislators by emphasizing lower rates of abuse and maltreatment.

“Children are not suffering maltreatment while they’re in custody,” Gilmore said. “There’s lots of trauma when they’re removed from the home, (but) while they’re in custody in Kansas, children are safe by all measurements.”

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, disagreed.

“I have to take exception with ‘children are not in maltreatment,’ ” Kelly said, citing a Topeka case in which a child was being abused.

“You need to be very careful making those blanket statements that are not true.”

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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