Topeka An official with the state's social services agency on Monday reported improvement in Kansas' child welfare system, but some legislators are worried that more problems could be in store.
Joyce Allegrucci, assistant secretary of children and family policy for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, pointed to what she saw as encouraging results from a new report on the state's child welfare system.
That report, which covers the first six months of this year, shows that 1,581 children left the foster care system, compared with the 1,575 entering it.
It was the first time the number of children leaving exceeded the number entering since a Virginia-based firm began monitoring the system in 1998.
"We're working very hard to make sure that trend holds," Allegrucci told the Legislative Post Audit Committee.
Last month the committee ordered an audit of the state's adoption and foster care system, which is expected to be released in January.
Though Allegrucci saw good news in the evaluation, the report also showed it took longer to find adoptive homes for children, and that parents and children were not as satisfied with the system as they were a year ago.
Also, some lawmakers expressed skepticism about Allegrucci's positive testimony.
Rep. Ed McKechnie said there aren't adequate safeguards to ensure that service providers pay subcontractors.
In 1996, SRS turned over foster care and adoption services to private, nonprofit groups.
The child welfare system drew increased attention after legislators learned in July that Lutheran Social Service, which provides some adoption services, was in financial trouble.
"I'm afraid that we're on the continual verge of that happening again," said McKechnie, D-Pittsburg.
Sen. Pat Ranson, R-Wichita, said she was worried there
wasn't a sufficient mechanism to monitor adoption and foster care providers. "This is where we fail constantly," she said.
Allegrucci replied that SRS now has people with financial expertise reviewing the books and ensuring that subcontractors are paid within 60 days.
The report reviewed Monday was compiled by James Bell Associates. A lawsuit settled by SRS in 1993 led to regular state audits and external evaluations of the foster care program.
Allegrucci told the committee that the parties in the lawsuit agreed Friday to lower compliance requirements, which means fewer providers will be subject to monitoring.
"This will probably be the biggest morale-booster we've had in the field for several months," she said.
The child welfare report, completed earlier this month, said 32 percent of foster children were placed in adoptive homes within six months, and 51 percent placed within a year.
Both figures are new lows, and well below SRS standards of 55 percent for six months and 70 percent for a year.
The percentage of parents and children satisfied with the system dropped from 91 percent during the first half of 1999 to 79 percent a year later.