A top-to-bottom overhaul of the Kansas Department for Children and Families should follow a blistering audit that revealed the agency fails to properly oversee private foster care contractors, putting the safety of children at risk.
Gov. Sam Brownback should take seriously some Democratic legislators’ call for the resignation of Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. The governor’s plan to continue to support her could wind up jeopardizing children in the foster care system.
The audit was done at the request of the Legislative Division of Post Audit Committee. It is the initial phase of a thorough examination of foster care in Kansas. Private foster care agencies do most of the work; the state department administers the program. Last year, 6,300 children were in foster care.
The foster system is responsible for providing temporary homes for children needing protection from physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse or neglect. It is essential that the system itself not jeopardize the safety of the children it is supposed to protect.
“Consequently, it is important for the foster care system to have sufficient controls in place to ensure the best interest of the child is the focus of all decisions made,” the audit said.
That clearly hasn’t been the case in the Department for Children and Families.
The audit found that the agency fails to conduct thorough background checks on foster families. Fingerprint-based background checks were done on foster parents but not on all individuals living in foster homes.
The agency also fails to ensure that monthly in-person visits occur for children’s safety in foster care, in adoptive homes or for children who have been reintegrated with their family.
The audit added that the department fails to determine whether children are placed in foster homes with sufficient living and sleeping space and whether families have the financial means needed to care for the children. In fact, the department grants nearly all requests for exceptions to these rules, which is inexcusable.
The audit revealed problems with training, staff turnover and low morale at the department. In press reports, Gilmore blamed low morale on negative stories in the media about the foster care system. That’s an absurd excuse when the audit clearly shows monumental problems exist in the agency.
They must be fixed to ensure the proper care and safety of Kansas children in the foster care system.