Topeka A federal audit has turned up record-keeping problems in the state's foster care and adoption programs, the head of the state's social service agency said.
But Janet Schalansky said the state has at least a year to correct the problems before it runs the risk of losing federal support.
"I wish our files had been perfect," Schalansky, who heads the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said Monday. "But they weren't. It is sort of a wake-up call."
Specifically, auditors from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found instances where SRS had used federal money to care for children who, because of mistakes in their files, may not have been eligible.
If the problems identified in the federal audit aren't corrected by next year, Schalansky said, "It could cost us a lot of money."
Last year, federal support for state foster care services totaled $32.5 million.
"The issues addressed in the audit have to do with documentation," Schalansky said. "This is not about services."
Schalansky said SRS officials were provided with the preliminary results of the audit about two weeks ago. But Sen. Steve Morris, chairman of the SRS Transition Oversight Committee, didn't learn about them until this week.
"After all the work we've put into this, to fail an audit is upsetting," said Morris, R-Hugoton.
Schalansky said the mistakes uncovered by the auditors involved her agency, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the court system.
"Some of it is pretty small potatoes," she said, noting the way judges wrote their orders caused some of the eligibility problems.
Joyce Allegrucci, deputy secretary in charge of children and family services at SRS, blamed much of the problem on social-worker confusion about which guidelines to use when figuring whether children were poor enough for federal support.
"It's confusing," Allegrucci said. "The new guidelines use the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children formula, but many workers are now used to using the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families guidelines."
She added, "We need to do a better job explaining which guidelines to use."
Auditors also found several instances of judges not documenting that enough preventive steps had been taken before placing a child in state custody, Allegrucci said.
News of the audit results comes at a particularly sensitive time for SRS. In recent weeks, the agency has been criticized by lawmakers for its handling of financial problems experienced by nonprofit agencies it hired to operate the adoption and foster care systems.
More detailed reports about the problems uncovered by the federal audit are expected to be available by mid-September, when Morris' oversight committee and the Joint Committee on Children's Issues headed by Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, are next scheduled to meet.