The Kansas Child Welfare System is making “significant progress”.
According to Governor Laura Kelly’s Office, Kansas foster children have stable placements and are experiencing fewer moves while in care, according to the first report from the Neutral Third Party in the McIntyre class action lawsuit settlement.
“My administration inherited a broken child welfare system that had an unacceptable number of children in care, a lack of placement stability, and limited prevention services,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “Under my Administration, we now have 1,300 fewer children in the system, and the Neutral Report shows we have made substantial progress in making sure kids are in stable placements and experience fewer moves. There’s more work to be done, but this report shows we are headed in the right direction.”
The McIntyre class action lawsuit was filed in 2018 under the Colyer Administration by Kansas Appleseed, Children’s Rights, and the National Center for Youth Law against the Governor, Kansas Department for Children and Families, Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The Governor was later dismissed from the case.
The parties agreed to a settlement in 2020. The settlement was structured to ensure Kansas would achieve substantial progress and compliance in key performance areas over a multi-year period. Performance areas include accountability, reporting and implementation, practice improvements and outcomes. The settlement recognizes that the outcomes and practice improvements will not all be accomplished in one year. Outcome goals were set for a three-to-four-year period.
Judith Meltzer, President of the Center for the Study of Social Policy serves as the Neutral Third Party responsible for assessing the State’s first year progress. This first report covers calendar year 2021.
“Reforming a child welfare system is a complex and multi-year endeavor,” Meltzer said. “During this first year, Kansas has made considerable progress in addressing some fundamental problems and has started down a path that we anticipate will lead to further improvements in the years ahead and to sustainable and meaningful improvements for Kansas children and families.”
Kansas made significant progress in placement stability. The Neutral validated that Kansas achieved its first-year benchmarks for placement stability and placement moves. Children in care experienced a rate of 5.84 moves per 1,000 days – more than meeting the benchmark of seven moves per 1,000 days. The report also shows that 86% of Kansas kids were in stable placements during CY 21, surpassing the benchmark of 80%.
“The report affirms our commitment to Kansas children by continuing efforts to build an effective child welfare system,” DCF Secretary Laura Howard said. “Using tools like kinship placements, partnerships with community agencies to provide trauma-informed support to foster parents and prioritizing families over facilities, these have all had a positive impact on this issue.”
The state does have more work to do in both temporary overnight placements and night-to-night or short-term placements. Children who experience a failure to place often have complex developmental, medical, behavioral or safety needs.
DCF is working to build capacity through several new initiatives. The agency has created the Failure to Place Prevention Network with the goal of creating stand-by service beds and other ways for family foster home to serve one child at a time. DCF also is addressing gaps with the addition of Therapeutic Foster Homes that launched in 2022.
The report also shows Kansas achieved several accountability benchmarks mandated by the agreement. Those include:
- Amending case management provider contracts to clarify responsibilities arising from the settlement
- Creating an independent advisory group to inform planning and program improvement
- Collecting and reporting data on Class Members placed in a jail, correctional or detention facility
State agencies also are making significant progress in mental health practice improvements and outcomes despite not reaching the CY 21 benchmarks.
- DCF approved a contract with Beacon Health Options to create the Mobile Family Crisis Helpline which launched in Oct. of 2021.
- Unvalidated period 2 data shows significant improvement in addressing mental and behavioral health needs with nearly 80% of Class Members having their needs met.
“Addressing mental and behavioral health needs is vital if we are to have a strong child and family well-being system,” Howard said. “We know there is more work to do to strengthen the timely and consistent access to mental health assessments and reviews.”
DCF and its partner agencies will continue to collaborate with the Center for the Study of Social Policy to ensure valid data and look forward to showing more progress in the Period 2 report in 2023.
Those interested in the full CY 21 report can access it via the Center for the Study of Social Policy website.