More concerns about foster care

The state was “not in substantial compliance” with about two-thirds of the federal foster care benchmarks examined.
The state was “not in substantial compliance” with about two-thirds of the federal foster care benchmarks examined.

Another audit has raised more concerns about the state’s foster care system. And though the Kansas Department for Children and Families appears to be addressing some of the shortcomings, state lawmakers need to continue to press for improvement and hold the agency accountable.

The latest Legislative Post Audit report found the state is complying with federal standards for protecting children from abuse and neglect. But the state is “not in substantial compliance” with about two-thirds of the federal benchmarks examined, including that children have permanency and stability in their living situations and that the state is properly monitoring the private companies it contracts with to provide foster care.

This report follows an audit last month contending that DCF was failing to ensure the safety of children in foster care. It noted that DCF didn’t always conduct background checks of people living in foster homes, that it didn’t always investigate reports of alleged abuse and neglect in a timely manner, and that many caseworkers weren’t completing the required monthly visits with foster children.

As with the previous audit, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore downplayed the latest findings. She told state lawmakers last week that a 2015 federal review, which was cited in the state audit, was designed in such a way that no state achieves full compliance. She also said that Kansas does better than most states.

“When we’re compared to the other states, Kansas is doing well in many, many areas,” she told lawmakers. “And you all need to feel proud about that.”

Several lawmakers were correct to challenge Gilmore about the findings and her blanket claim that children in foster care are safe. They need to continue to pressure DCF to improve.

DCF was fined $535,000 for its noncompliance with the federal standards, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. But the fine was suspended pending implementation of an improvement plan, which DCF is working on.

In response to the previous audit findings, DCF is bolstering social worker recruitment and training, Gilmore said. It also is expanding background checks for everyone in a foster home over the age of 10.

A third audit of the foster care system is still to come. It will examine costs, resources and outcomes, looking at whether the state’s privatized model is meeting expectations.

Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, issued his own report last year calling for an end to the privatized system. He concluded that the state is overspending on foster care because of duplicated services and because private contractors need to make a profit.

The number of children in foster care has surged in recent years. DCF has a duty to properly care for and protect these children. And state lawmakers have a duty to make sure DCF is doing its job.