Topeka An SRS report on Kaw Valley Center isn't enough to satisfy legislators who continue to tangle with the foster care issue.
As the state's welfare agency this week was presenting a positive scorecard on a foster care group serving Douglas County, a separate state agency was moving to take action against the group.
Kaw Valley Center, headquartered in Kansas City, is under contract with the Kansas Department of Social Rehabilitation Services (SRS) to provide foster care services for children from most eastern Kansas counties, including Douglas County.
Last month, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) moved to suspend the license for Kaw Valley's main facility in Kansas City, Kan., citing overcrowding and other violations of its license. Then this week, KDHE inspectors made public their intent to suspend the license of a smaller, separately licensed group home, Logan House, which is located at Kaw Valley's Kansas City campus.
Both suspension actions await appeal before a KDHE hearing officer. Most of the violations cited by health inspectors stem from overcrowding.
An SRS official said the KDHE suspension actions would not figure in the welfare agency's assessments of Kaw Valley's contract performance unless and until the licenses are actually pulled.
``They're two different issues,'' said Marilyn Jacobson, deputy SRS commissioner of children and family services. ``The issues with Health and Environment are licensing issues. The foster care contract is much bigger and broader than just facilities. We'll leave that up to H&E and look at what the fair hearing officer orders in the case.''
Meanwhile, Jacobson said, the latest SRS report on Kaw Valley shows the contractor is doing a good job of filing and fulfilling children's case plans in timely fashion.
She said Kaw Valley is doing about as well or better at the measured tasks than SRS workers did before the services were contracted out in 1997 as part of a sweeping privatization initiative by the administration of Gov. Bill Graves.
The report was based on review by SRS of 111 Kaw Valley case files. Jacobson said the files were selected randomly by SRS field workers before they were scrutinized.
The review was prompted by an audit request last week by various members of the Kansas House concerned about complaints from constituents about Kaw Valley. But members of the Legislative Post-Audit Committee turned aside the request for an in-depth audit of the contractor. Instead, they directed SRS to respond to the questions posed by the House members.
Various legislative critics of Kaw Valley said although the SRS report put Kaw Valley in a good light, it didn't allay their concerns about the contractor's performance.
``The concerns out there from professionals and foster families still beg the question: Are we getting the job done?'' said Rep. Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican among those who sought the audit.
``I hate to say I don't trust the numbers,'' in the report, he said, ``because that would suggest I think they're dishonest. But from my personal experience and what we hear, I don't know that we're actually doing the assessments we need to be doing. I do believe these numbers will remain better under scrutiny. As we keep the pressure on, the providers will hustle and get better. I'm not an opponent of privatization. I want to make it work.''
``I've heard comments in confidence from professionals that really give me concern, and I can't reconcile them with the numbers we see,'' said Rep. Phyllis Gilmore, a Stanley Republican. ``It concerns me when I get such varying statements that can't be reconciled in my own mind and experience. That's why I want a post-audit.''
Gilmore said she and other lawmakers will continue to press for a full Post-Audit examination of Kaw Valley, despite the report from SRS. The committee next meets in May.
Another indication of legislative discontent with the foster care services came Thursday evening.
After about an hour of debate, the House narrowly approved an amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill that would bar SRS from renewing or entering foster care service contracts with providers, ``not fully meeting all outcome goals and indicators ... under the provider contract agreement.''
The proviso must also receive Senate approval to become effective.
``This whole issue is clearly one of the failures of the Graves administration,'' said Sen. Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and member of the Legislative Post-Audit Committee. ``From the public relations perspective it is being touted as successful, but I think that rhetoric is overblown in terms of its success. It's got a lot of problems to overcome. It kind of boggles the mind trying to figure out how the Legislature can effectively deal with it.''
`A long way to go'
But Jacobson said SRS officials remain convinced the new system already is working better than the old system and will only improve with time.
``Do I think the system is perfect? No, it's not. Does it have a long way to go? Sure. Is there a lot of work to be done before we're satisfied? Of course.
``But this kind of massive change is not an easy task,'' Jacobson said. ``And it will continue to require a lot of work from both contractors and SRS staff. I think this is the right system for Kansas.
``Under the old system,'' Jacobson said, ``we had kids who languished in the foster care system for years and years. With this system, we have 26 percent more adoptions under the contractor (Lutheran Social Services) than under SRS. We'll continue looking at things that don't work and we'll be open minded trying to figure out how to resolve the issues.''
-- Mike Shields phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.