The Kansas House is right to insist that the state get a better handle on the quality and cost of foster care and adoption services.
Even though they are snarling budget negotiations, Kansas House members should stick by their resolve to make the state more accountable for the money it spends on foster care and adoption services in Kansas.
One of the major sticking points for House and Senate conferees working on the state budget bill is a discrepancy in the Social and Rehabilitation Services budget allocations. Senators want to spend $17.1 million more than the House has approved for foster care and adoption services for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Senate also wants to spend $8.6 million more than the House has allotted for foster care and adoption programs in the next fiscal year. Both sides are dug into their positions and have shown little desire to compromise.
In an effort to restore some confidence in the state's foster care system and perhaps achieve some movement from the House on the issue of SRS funding, four legislators have proposed a Kansas Child Welfare Reform Act that would increase state accountability for foster care children. It would require the state to track every child in the system and assess whether children are being kept in the least restrictive environment possible. It also would require various legal and medical professionals to collaborate on the treatment of foster care children and would require foster care contractors to subcontract with local community health centers to treat foster children.
The need for the state to have greater oversight of foster care services has become apparent since the system was turned over to private contractors two years ago. Since that time many professionals who work with foster children have questioned the quality and consistency of services the children receive.
The costs of the program also have grown out of control. The state's contractors have far exceeded the budget projected by SRS officials, but the state nonetheless is obligated to cover the expenses. Without additional oversight, it's likely that costs will grow even more, and unless the state covers the bills, it will lose foster care and adoption contractors.
The costs being incurred by the foster care contractors may be unavoidable, but there's no way to know that unless the state increases its monitoring of expenditures. Even more important is to monitor the quality of care being provided to children who are in foster care or awaiting adoption. Large facilities that have been used in some cities to house those children hardly provide a family setting that experts believe is best for foster children.
One of the legislators who proposed the Child Welfare Reform Act said that because of glitches that have come to light, legislators are in danger of losing confidence in the state's privatized foster care system. Many professionals already have lost confidence in the ability of the system to provide efficient and high quality care. House members are right to require additional accountability to shape up the system and provide better services for Kansas children.