Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Topeka home scraps foster care

Reimbursement causes Florence Crittenton to change focus

February 15, 2001


— Privatization has not been kind to Florence Crittenton Services of Topeka, a program that once served as a home for unwed, teen-aged mothers.

"We've reached the point where we're losing between $8,000 and $10,000 a month," said board member Gerald Christensen. "As a governing board, we can't let that continue."

The board decided late Tuesday to move away from its current mission of caring for girls in foster care. Instead, the program will focus on girls referred by the state's juvenile justice system.

Without Florence Crittenton, the state's privatized foster care system loses 18 openings for teen-age girls who are truant, pregnant or caring for children of their own.

"This limits the menu of what (is) available for kids who need services," said Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka.

"And I think it underscores, yet again, the consequences of going to a privatized, managed care-type foster care system," he said.

Florence Crittenton recently celebrated a century of operation.

Florence Crittenton's decision, said board member Gerald Christensen, was driven by money.

Currently, Florence Crittenton is paid $55 a day for each girl in its care by Kansas Children's Service League, the region's foster care contractor under privatization.

By switching to juvenile offenders, Florence Crittenton expects to be paid $72.32 a day.

Audits have put the program's expenses around $100 a day for each child in its care.

In the past, other foster-care contractors have paid Florence Crittenton about $70 a day. But these placements have dwindled in the past year.

Christensen called the board's decision a "no-brainer," noting that most of the additional services required by the shift to juvenile offenders already are being provided at the center.

"We've done everything we can do to make this work we cut back on the heat, we've looked at going from a capacity of 18 to 14 or going off in another direction altogether," he said. "But the money just isn't there."

Efforts to get larger reimbursements from Kansas Children's Service League have been unsuccessful, said Karen Schectman, executive director at Florence Crittenton.

That's because Florence Crittenton hasn't changed with the times, said Melissa Ness, the league's chief operating officer.

"I feel bad about saying this because I don't in any way want to imply that Florence Crittenton is a bad program it's a good program," Ness said. "But KCSL cannot make another agency viable because it hasn't done the kind of planning it takes to remain viable."

According to Ness, Florence Crittenton is geared toward providing residential services within a system that's doing all it can to keep children out of group-home settings.

Ness said children fare better in family settings than group homes.

"The system is no longer residentially based. It's all about putting kids in settings that are the least restrictive and the most family-like," she said.

Now, Kansas Children's Service League will try to find foster homes for girls who, in the past, would have gone to Florence Crittenton.

"To say this is 'all about money' is to paint an inaccurate picture," Ness said. "We are willing to continue purchasing services from Florence Crittenton, but these purchases are not going to be enough to keep them viable."

Schectman and Christensen both said efforts to steer Florence Crittenton in a different direction were thwarted by a lack of input from Kansas Children's Service League and the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

"We're going to do what we do best," Schectman said, "and that's be a good parent to kids who have no one else."

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