DCF Secretary Laura Howard Addresses Ongoing Child Welfare Lawsuit
Department for Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard today expressed her disappointment over the stalled settlement negotiations in the ongoing class action lawsuit and her expectations for continued improvement to the Kansas child welfare system.
“Governor Kelly tasked me with the responsibility of reforming our child welfare system because there is no one more committed to improving the lives of Kansas foster children than I am,” Howard said. “While there is certainly opportunity for the parties to resume settlement negotiations, this is a great time to highlight the work we’ve already done to improve the system.”
Howard points to the significant work done to reduce foster placement instability and improve the child protection framework in Kansas.
“A close examination of some of our most important indicators shows that in the last year we’ve made significant progress in slowing the number of foster youth who run away or are forced to sleep in offices,” Howard said. “At the same time through implementation of new practice models we are already seeing a modest reduction in the number of children who come into the system.”
Special Response Team
In the spring of 2019, DCF took steps to expand its special response team tasked with locating youth who have run away from their placements and identify the underlying reasons why they run. The 10-member team is comprised of both DCF and contractor employees.
By engaging in prevention, location recovery and systems improvement, results from the special response team are promising - decreasing the daily pace of youth who are on the run from 94 to about 50. DCF has learned that for youth whose location is recovered, more than a half (57%) have run away at least once before. The team is working on new strategies to reduce or prevent run recurrence.
“I hear stories every day on how our special response team is having a positive impact on the lives of foster children, Howard said. “They are helping these youth get into substance use treatment, find jobs and make important connections with family members.”
Child Protection Framework
Also, in 2019, DCF began implementing a new child protection framework and family meeting practice model in both its Kansas City and East regions. The new approach supports family engagement and creates a safety network for families. Initial data from the rollout shows the new approach is already having a positive impact on safety of children, creating a stronger connection to community services and preventing the need for out of home foster care placement.
In the Kansas City region, which includes Wyandotte and Johnson counties, from 2018 to 2019 there was a 7% reduction in the number of children who entered foster care.
The agency is seeing the same positive results in its East region which covers 25 counties in the eastern part of the state. The percent of children who entered foster care reduced by almost 6% in calendar year 2019 compared to calendar year 2018.
The total number of children in foster care in these two regions is also down, thanks to more children leaving the system. Since January 2019, the agency has completed 1,141 adoptions. DCF received an adoption incentive award for its efforts in 2019 and will use those funds to help the more than 2,000 children with a current case plan goal of adoption.
DCF also has made significant progress in addressing the need for intensive treatment for our most vulnerable children. Since July, the agency has worked with our community partners to increase the number of Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTFs) beds by 54. As a result, the waiting list has dropped by more than 80.
Patience is Necessary
In recent years, Kansas families have experienced significant roadblocks to services that can assist them with important child care and food assistance, work supports and parenting skills. The result of these policies was a significant increase in the number of children entering foster care. Recent analysis by University of Kansas professor Dr. Donna Ginther and Ohio State professor Dr. Michelle Johnson-Motoyama finds that 5,986 children entered foster care as a result of policies that restricted access to TANF benefits between 2012 and 2018.
DCF has spent the last year trying to reverse the effect of these policies and is now seeing evidence that new initiatives are having a positive effect on Kansas families. DCF has implemented the Family First Prevention Act, created new policies to provide improved access to child care and supported families through safe sleep and parent skills training.
Howard says more time is needed to see the full impact of the changes.
“Child welfare experts tell me it commonly takes three years before a large child welfare system shows significant improvements after years of neglect,” she said. “I don’t see it that way. I’m hopeful that Kansas can buck that trend, but I am also realistic and know that we must be patient and give these reforms time to take hold. I won’t rest until the work is done, Kansas families are thriving, and we can focus solely on caring for our state’s vulnerable children without dealing with expensive lawsuits.”