“This is a first step,” group that sued Kansas foster care reacts to settlement

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The state of Kansas has settled a lawsuit with foster care advocates.

In November of 2018, advocacy organization Kansas Appleseed brought the suit against the state along with national groups, Children’s Rights and the National Center for Youth Law. The organizations sued after countless stories of abuse and neglect in the Kansas foster care system.

“Kids sleeping in offices, I think there was at one time, an assault or rape in an office by an older child of a younger child,” explained Teresa Woody, Litigation Director with Kansas Appleseed. “Night-to-night placements where kids were basically just couch-surfing. They would be one place on night, another place the next night and kind of carrying their clothes in a garbage bag.”

According to Woody, the lawsuit was brought on behalf of all Kansas foster children, which is now more than 7,000 kids. Woody said there were between ten and 12 named plaintiffs who are kids in the foster care system.

In the settlement, foster care agencies statewide must stop night-to-night and short-term placements. Additionally, children cannot be housed in unsuitable locations like offices and hotels. Crisis intervention services must be made available for children across the state. Mental health screenings and programs must also be provided for foster kids.

“Within 30 days of a child being put into foster care, they will have an assessment and then appropriate treatment,” added Woody.

While this is a major step in the right direction for foster care advocates, they also say this is just the first step.

“Of course, there are many many other issues that the foster care system or that touch the system and those kids,” said Woody. “So yes, this is a first step.”

The settlement requires yearly reports from the Department for Children and Families (DCF) on foster care numbers. An outside committee must also be formed to oversee the foster care system.

In a press release, DCF Secretary Laura Howard said, “The settlement agreement affirms our commitment to Kansas children by continuing efforts to build an effective child welfare system. The work we agreed to complete to resolve this lawsuit began a year and half ago when I stepped into my role as Secretary and will continue to be our primary focus.”

If it is found that the state or a foster care agency is not meeting the requirements of the settlement, legal action could be taken.

The full details of the settlement include:

Accountability reporting and implementation:

  • Amending foster care provider agreements to include practice improvements and outcomes within 30 days of the order.
  •  Developing an independent advisory group to inform action planning and improvement within six months of the order
  • Reporting and validation of number and placement duration of youth placed in detention or juvenile justice placement and foster care caseloads
  • Validating performance data through a neutral entity
  • Establishing annual reporting periods during Jan. – Dec. 2021-23

Practice improvement:

  • Ending the use of offices for overnight stays
  • Ensuring crisis intervention service statewide
  • Ending night to night placements with exception to those deemed appropriate by CFSR placement stability standards by December 2021.
  • Ending short-term placements that are 14 days or shorter by Dec. 2023
  • Ending delays in authorizing mental health treatment
  • Ensuring no placement exceeds its licensed capacity without an approved policy exception

Outcomes:

  • Achieving placement stability for children entering care at a rate 4.44 moves or fewer per 1,000 days in care
  • Providing children an initial trauma and mental health screening within 30 days of entering care
  • Providing a stable placement as measured in federal case review for at least 90% of children in care
  • Ensuring 90% of children have their mental health needs addressed as measured in federal case review.
  • Ensuring that in a 12-month reporting period children have one or fewer moves in the previous 12 months

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