TOPEKA, Kansas Kansas foster care workers mishandled a sexual abuse investigation, lied in court papers, and canceled child visits last year because agencies couldn’t move children fast enough.
“The number and type of inaccuracies presented in documents submitted to the court could lead an objective observer to consider disinformation to be intentional or malicious, in direct violation of codes of ethics for licensed child protection professions,” the report says.
In some cases, children were almost displaced after major surgery, case files were incomplete or took too long, or agencies were unable to place the children with relatives who were available.
These were the results of the first ever annual report filed by the Division of Child Welfare, a young independent oversight agency formed to protect adopted children in Kansas.
In 2022, the department received 165 official applications regarding 321 children. Some of the most common complaints related to unprofessional behavior of staff and insufficient visitation of children, but not every complaint resulted in confirmed wrongdoing.
Children’s rights advocate Kerry Lonard and her team found nine recurring problems facing the state’s foster care system. Key among these were accountability, parental and child rights, labor force retention and training, and job security.
Placement stability simply means how many times the child has moved to a new location. As of October 2022, Kansas children moved an average of 7.4 times in 1,000 days. Federal standards require no more than 4.44 moves during that time.
Too much movement can leave children and social workers unprepared. In one case, a child received community services at one location, was transferred, and two months elapsed before the same services were resumed at the next location.
The Department of Children and Families released a statement promising to work with the children’s advocate.
“His work in identifying opportunities to improve the child protection system has been invaluable to DCF,” the statement said. “Attorney reviews provide important insight into agency policies and procedures, allowing for changes or adjustments to be made to better serve Kansas families.”
The office was established in October 2021.
“This year has been the culmination of a lot of progress, achievement, challenges and growth,” Lonard said in a written statement in the report. “The Year in Review highlights an amazing twelve months for the children and families of KDCA and Kansas, but it brings with it obstacles, losses, celebrations and important learning.”
The report calls for faster action on complaints. Lonard’s office has 76 open investigations and 16 closed cases. Complaints are handled by a team of five people: three investigators, one office administrator and Lonard.
In September, Lonard told lawmakers that the office’s workload was “unsustainable” in the early months of the office’s existence, but that given time, she said, they would be easier to manage.
After that meeting, legislators took on additional work, giving her office the lead role in interviewing adoptive parents. The need for it arose after 500 foster parents left the foster care system, and the state could not explain the outcome.
Rep. Susan Concannon, chair of the Child and Foster Parent Protection Committee, said she was concerned about the specific cases listed in the report.
“It just makes you wonder how many more are out there,” she said.
Concannon said the office is another tool at the state’s disposal to hold foster families accountable while building confidence in the system.
“I heard someone the other day called the foster care system a beast. It’s a monster, it’s big, very fragmented and doesn’t always stick together,” Concannon said.
She said the Statehouse committees considering the issue give the Kansans hope.
“There is this level of trust that we kind of get to the bottom of things,” she said.
Kansas residents dealing with the Department of Child Welfare may contact Blaise Mesa.
He writes about criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at [email protected]
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