Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

State adoption audit delayed for want of legislators

Democratic leaders question need for audit, plan to present alternative next week

August 31, 2000


— A committee couldn't order an audit Wednesday of how the state provides adoption and foster care programs because too few members showed up.

Four Republicans turned up for the meeting of the Legislative Post Audit Committee, but six members are required to conduct business. The 10-member committee plans to discuss the proposed audit during its Sept. 18 meeting.

"Today was a missed opportunity to get the ball rolling," said Sen. Lana Oleen, committee chairwoman.

None of the four Democrats on the committee showed up, and neither did two Republicans. Democrats have criticized the current adoption and foster care system, and they plan to announce an alternative within the next week.

House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville, questioned the need for an audit, noting that the Legislature has received regular reports in the past.

Oleen, R-Manhattan, said she hadn't told committee members in advance that the proposed audit would be discussed, and she didn't think the Democrats' absence was intentional.

The audit, which requires approval from the committee, is expected to take 10 to 12 weeks to complete.

The state turned over foster care and adoption services to private nonprofit groups in 1996. The subject became a volatile political issue after legislators learned last month that Lutheran Social Services, which provides adoption services to the state, is in financial trouble.

A recent private audit showed LSS had about $9.2 million in debts but only $7.3 million in revenue to pay creditors.

Committee members who showed up Wednesday received copies of the proposed scope for the audit, requested by House Majority Leader Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, and Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.

The document says auditors should look at how the current adoption and foster care system compares to the one in place before 1996, when the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services provided such services.

That's a key point for Republicans, who maintain the current system, with its flaws, still is far better than the one it replaced. The old system's problems led to a lawsuit against SRS.

Other topics that may be addressed by the audit include what financial reporting requirements SRS included in its contract with LSS; what factors contributed to LSS' financial problems; and any irregularities in the most recent bidding process for the state's adoption contract.

LSS had the contract from 1996 until July 1, when Kansas Children's Service League took over adoption services for 1,490 children. The league then contracted with LSS to take care of 988 of them but announced earlier this month it was exercising a 90-day termination clause in its contract with LSS.

LSS continues to provide adoption services, and KCSL said it may award a new contract to the organization.

Also Wednesday, House Minority Leader Jim Garner said Democrats plan to announce an alternative to the way the state provides adoption and foster care services by the middle of next week.

Garner, D-Coffeyville, had said Democrats probably would release the plan this week. However he said it's taking longer than expected to circulate it among Democrats.

"I'm more interested in finding ways to fix the system," Garner said. "We all know there's problems."

Oleen said an audit is needed to determine what's wrong before attempting to make improvements.

"I really think we need some information, and that call is coming from both Republicans and Democrats," she said.

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