Lawmakers plan to alter a foster care reform bill after the agency in charge warned the legislation could jeopardize more than $48 million in federal funding each year.
The Department for Children and Families warns the bill puts as much as $48.3 million in federal funding at risk in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and as much as $48.9 million in the next year.
That has frustrated lawmakers who think the agency and the foster care program need to be reformed.
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“Everyone says DCF needs stronger oversight. It’s being blocked by the administration through their allies in the leadership office,” House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said this week.
The chairman of the House Children and Seniors Committee, Rep. Steve Alford, a Ulysses Republican, said the agency’s concerns may be a “misinterpretation.” He indicated he still supports the bill.
“I think there’s a lot of other people who would like for it to go through, too,” Alford said.
Some members of the committee met with House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, on Wednesday. Alford said the committee will meet Thursday and amend the bill to address issues raised by the department.
The bill creates a task force that would submit a corrective action plan to lawmakers for the 2018 session. The Department for Children and Families would be required to provide data and information to the task force, which would be made up of members appointed by legislative leaders.
The department contended in a fiscal analysis issued last month that the corrective action plan could conflict with the agency’s own plans to address deficiencies in federal reviews.
Alford said the changes the committee plans to make Thursday will make the bill “a little bit softer” — making the task force’s plan closer to a series of recommendations, rather than a requirement.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback and Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore announced a $500,000 initiative intended to raise awareness of the need for foster care parents. Nearly 7,000 children are in foster care in Kansas, with 2,800 foster homes available (some homes care for more than one child at a time).
A state audit released Friday found that the foster care system may not have sufficient capacity to provide necessary services, but auditors noted they didn’t have enough information to make a clear determination. More than 40 counties did not appear to have enough beds to accommodate children in need of a foster home, the audit said, and 26 counties did not appear to have any open beds.
At the same time, however, there were enough beds statewide. Taking the state as a whole, Kansas had about 20 percent more open beds than children needing placements in fiscal year 2016.
The department has said it has begun implementing new mapping programs to aid in determining placements and show where foster care homes are available.
The agency is also seeking additional foster parents.
The foster care system has been under intense scrutiny over the past year. A state audit last summer concluded the Kansas Department for Children and Families, which oversees the state’s privatized foster care system, failed to ensure the safety of children in the system.
The agency failed to conduct background checks on foster families, some foster homes had inadequate sleeping space for children, and monthly in-person visits to foster homes did not always take place, according to the audit.
The department has said throughout the audit process that Kansas has one of the safest child welfare systems in the country, and that the agency has made substantial progress in addressing concerns raised by the audits.