Kansas needs to retool the way it moves foster children into adoption, one of the state's leading child advocates said Wednesday.
"The system we have in place now isn't very family-friendly," said Gary Brunk, executive director at Kansas Action for Children. "We need to rethink the way we do things."
Addressing a Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services forum aimed at critiquing the performance of the state's child welfare services contractors, Brunk proposed putting foster care contractors also in charge of adoption services.
That would do away with children in foster care having to change social workers, counselors and case managers when their parents' rights are severed and they are become eligible for adoption.
These changes, Brunk said, are both upsetting and confusing to children whose lives already are troubled.
Currently, SRS has contracts with five regional agencies for foster care services. Kansas Children's Service League is the state's sole adoption contractor.
Based in Kansas City, Kan., Kaw Valley Center has the regional foster care contract that includes Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties.
Roberta Sue McKenna, assistant director of Children and Family Policy at SRS, moderated the forum. She declined comment on Brunk's proposal, noting the meeting was designed to hear -- rather than respond to -- concerns about current services .
Plans call for reopening to the contracts to bids this fall in hopes of them being awarded by June 30, 2004.
About 30 people -- a mix of program directors, social workers, advocates and foster parents -- attend the 90-minute session.
Other proposals included pressing contractors to:
- Keep better track of how foster children fare in school.
- Do more for children likely to turn 18 without being adopted.
- Do a better job of keeping children who have not been abused or neglected, but who are hard to handle, out of foster care.
Proposals directed at SRS, urged the department to:
- Extend the current four-year contracts to five or six years.
- Do a better job explaining the decision-making processes behind the awarding of the contracts.
- Find a way to reduce the sense of competition between contractors after the contracts are awarded.
"I don't want to say that happens all the time, but there are times, I think, when kids gets lost in the competitive nature of the contracts -- the way they are now," said Janice Storey, director of child services at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
"I understand that competition is now part of the process, but there comes a time when the competition needs to be put aside for the best interests of the child."