Topeka In the four years since Kansas privatized its child welfare system, record numbers of abused, neglected and troubled children have been adopted.
That's good news. But a legislative study released in early January found that the numbers of children declared eligible for adoption also are at record highs.
"As more and more kids come into the system, the percentage of those being adopted is declining. For that trend to continue would not be good," said Joe Lawhon, an analyst with the Legislative Division of Post Audit, at the time of the study's release.
According to the audit, 352 adoptions were completed between July 1995 and June 1996, the final year of the state-run system.
In calendar 1999, 546 were completed. The 2000 total was projected to be between 540 and 560.
But in July 1996, Kansas had 728 children awaiting adoption.
Four years later, there were 1,454.
The number of children entering the system, Lawhon said, is exceeding the number leaving.
He attributed much of the lopsidedness to a shortage of families willing to adopt and, perhaps, the financial troubles of Lutheran Social Services, the state's sole adoption contractor until July 1, 2000, when the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services awarded the contract to Kansas Children's Service League.
After losing the contract, Lutheran Social Services announced that it had run out of money and was considering bankruptcy.
The Wichita-based charity later agreed to pay its subcontractors 74 cents on the dollar. Lawhon warned that Kansas Children's Service League will have to "work hard" to stabilize the numbers of children entering and leaving the adoption system.
The audit also found:
Under privatization, SRS is paying 95 percent of the costs of caring for children in foster care or awaiting adoption. Reliance on charitable contributions has declined.
But a portion of the state money it's unclear how much is not reaching the system's smaller programs, causing some to spend more of their reserves.
Privatization has not saved money. In the past two years, spending on foster care and adoption services have increased $125 million.
Under privatization, the costs of administering foster care and adoption services appear to have declined.
SRS policies for monitoring the financial health of the 2000-2004 contractors appear to be adequate.
Joyce Allegrucci, SRS assistant secretary in charge of children and family policy, welcomed the audit's findings.
"It says that things are much improved. The number of adoptions is up, the administrative costs are down, and we have the right monitoring tools in place," she said. "This is a very good indicator of what's going on."
But members of the joint Legislative Post Audit Committee struggled to find much to cheer about.
"I feel like we went into this wondering if a four-lane highway is better than a county road, and now we're being told, 'Yes, it's better, see how much more traffic there is,'" said Rep, Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg.
Sen. Pat Ranson, R-Wichita, doubted the privatized system is working as smoothly or is as adequately financed as the audit implies.
Neither Ranson nor McKechnie sought re-election.
The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, ended the discussion: "We have more children being adopted, that's the important thing."
Copies of the audit are available by calling the Legislative Division of Post Audit, (785) 296-3729.