Editorial: More oversight for foster care

Lawmakers need to step up to make sure that children in foster care are protected and cared for.

Increased legislative oversight of the state’s foster care system is warranted, especially in light of reports that the state agency responsible for investigating claims of child abuse and neglect grossly failed a Lenexa boy who ultimately was murdered by his family.

House and Senate negotiators are working on a bill to create an 18-member task force made up of lawmakers and child welfare advocates to oversee the foster care system. Republican Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, told The Associated Press that the story of 7-year-old Adrian Jones has given the bill new momentum among legislators.

That’s a reasonable response given Adrian’s story.

Records released last week indicated that between 2011 and 2014, the Kansas Department for Children and Families received at least six reports of abuse and/or neglect at the Jones home, yet despite numerous visits and investigations, Adrian was never removed from the home. In 2015, Adrian’s remains were discovered in Kansas City, Kan. He had been tortured and starved before being killed and fed to pigs, investigators said.

Adrian’s father, Michael Jones, and stepmother, Heather Jones, have been sentenced to life in prison in connection with his death.

Adrian’s case has rightly sparked outrage, but it is not the only justification for increased oversight of the foster care system and DCF, the agency currently responsible for oversight.

A state audit of the foster care system has uncovered problems. Findings released last month showed that the private nonprofit agencies contracted to manage the foster care system often do not have the capacity to handle the volume of cases they deal with, and that DCF does not conduct adequate oversight of those contractors.

Previous findings from the three-part audit showed that DCF failed to conduct thorough background checks on licensed foster care providers, failed to conduct required monthly in-home visits of children in foster care and almost always granted waivers for families who do not meet space and financial resources guidelines to serve as foster parents.

Under the proposed bill, the task force would include 10 legislators and eight child welfare professionals. The task force would meet six times per year. The task force would be responsible for reviewing data on the foster care system and making recommendations to improve it.

Adrian Jones’ story is tragic, and the audit of the foster care program is troubling. A task force to look into the foster care problems is a minimal step lawmakers must take before a bad situation gets worse.