Progress cited on foster care issues but more work needed

A special legislative committee studying foster care heard Tuesday that progress has been made on several fronts but many challenges remain, including concerns over lagging educational outcomes for students in state care. (Link to committee information.) 

Children in out of home placements increased from a monthly average of over 5,800 in 2018 to almost 7,500 in 2019, or almost 30 percent. The system has been dogged by reports of children spending nights in social service offices when no placements could be found, missing children, a federal audit and a class action lawsuit. The state child welfare system has been the subject of several legislative studies in past years. 

Secretary of the Department of Children and Families Laura Howard told the committee the number of children in care has started to decline, falling below 7,000 in July, the length of stay out of home has slightly decreased and the percent of children placed with relatives has slightly increased. She reported steps the agency has taken to address the federal audit, a settlement in the lawsuit and responses to previous legislative studies. 

A future focus of attention is educational outcomes of children in foster care, which studies show often lag far behind their peers. In June, Gov. Laura Kelly issued Executive Order 20-53, which requires DCF and the Kansas State Department of Education to produce an annual report card on educational outcomes including aggregate graduation rate, grade level advancement, and state test scores for foster youth, disciplinary actions taken against foster youth in schools and data on foster youth participation in early learning and mental health programs. (Link to DCF testimony on the executive order.) 

Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis presented to the committee a sample version of the report card, which will be presented to the House and Senate Education Committees by January 15th of each year. While the report card will provide statewide data, the information will be collected from local school district data. School leaders should expect increased scrutiny over policies and results regarding foster care students. 

Dennis also presented information on the school based mental health pilot program and how it serves students in foster care. 

On Wednesday, the committee is scheduled to hear presentations on entities serving individuals involved in or at risk entering the child welfare system, technology and information sharing, legal representation quality, and committee discussion. 

The committee has additional meeting days scheduled on Sept. 22-23 and October 20-21. 

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