Foster care problems require community-wide attention; DCF criticized

Officials with the state’s two foster care contractors said Tuesday that ensuring safe and timely services for children in the system will require a community-wide effort. Meanwhile, the Kansas Department for Children and Families continued to come under fire for its foster care oversight.  
“We have to start looking at getting upstream,” said Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer for KVC Health Systems. “We can pull people out of the river downstream all day,” he said, but he said interventions are needed to help children and families before they require more intensive help. He added, “A large need in our child welfare system is mental health.” 
Cheryl Rathbun, chief clinical officer for Saint Francis Community Services, echoed Anderson’s comments, saying “Child welfare is not a department … it’s everyone’s job.” 
Anderson and Rathbun spoke to the Child Welfare System Task Force. The task force is charged with looking into DCF and other aspects of the child welfare. 
Last month the task force heard that on 111 occasions during the last fiscal year, children had to spend the night in the offices of the two foster care contractors because of the lack of treatment programs. In recent KASB regional meetings with public school officials across the state, educators have noted that the number of foster children is increasing and the children have many difficult and unmet needs. 
Of particular concern to several task force members was the reduced availability of psychiatric residential treatment facilities, or PRTFs, which provide treatment to youth due to mental illness, substance abuse or severe emotional disturbances. In 2011, there were 17 PRTFs in Kansas; currently there are eight, according to Rathbun. 
The average length of stay in a PRTF was 120 days in 2013; now it is about a third of that at 45 days. In 2013, 80 percent of children were able to be discharged from a PRTF to a family like setting. That has decreased to 20 percent with the shorter stays in PRTFs. 
The state has allocated $181 million for the current fiscal year to provide services to approximately 6,554 children per month in foster care. There are approximately 2,600 licensed foster care families in Kansas.  
DCF officials said they are trying to recruit and retain more foster families. But Task Force Chairman Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, said he has had people approach him saying they would like to be foster parents but there are too many regulations. 
DCF officials also said they established a unit in November to audit for compliance within DCF and its contractors. But the unit won’t have any reports for the task force until January. Some on the task force said taking more than a year to produce audit reports is too long a period of time.  
Meanwhile, some legislators were critical of DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore when she said she appeared unaware that three sisters — ages 12, 14 and 15 — have been missing from a Tonganoxie foster home since late August, the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle reported. 
State Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and a member of the Child Welfare System Task Force, said DCF officials seemed to know nothing about the case when she asked about it. 
“I am flabbergasted,” Kelly told the newspapers. “I used to work in this world years and years ago and I understand that where you have teenagers, you will have runners and they will go and they will do this kind of stuff. 
“But the fact that the person in charge of the wards of the state has no idea that these kids are missing from her custody is just astounding to me.”  
Secretary Gilmore said she could not discuss the case. She said in many instances when children leave foster homes they try to go back to their biological families or other relatives and friends.  
KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Community Services said they had a combined total of 74 children in the system that they didn’t know where they were. The officials said that rate of missing children is in line with the national average.

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