Kansas settles lawsuit pushing for foster care improvements

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, right, answers questions from reporters about her plans to merge social services agencies as Laura Howard, left, her top social services administrator, watches during a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

The state of Kansas settled a class-action lawsuit filed by child care advocates who accused the state of not providing foster children with adequate mental health care and moving them too frequently between homes.

The settlement, filed Wednesday, mandates the state stop moving foster children often and track them more carefully. The agreement won’t take effect until a judge approves and all children are notified, KCUR-FM reported.

More specifically, the terms of the settlement require the state to stop sheltering foster children in hotels, motels, cars, stores, offices, unlicensed homes or any other non-child-welfare housing. In addition, the state must also provide timely mental health treatment when needed and make crisis intervention services available to foster children statewide.

The settlement has other terms aimed at improving children’s home placement and tracking their movements more closely. All of the settlement’s requirements are to be implemented within a four-year period.

“It’s just a really good improvement for kids,” said Teresa Woody, an attorney for the nonprofit Kansas Appleseed, who was part of the group representing Kansas foster children.

In November 2018, child welfare advocates sued then-Gov. Jeff Colyer, the Department for Children and Families, the Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Department of Health and Environment. Their lawsuit alleged that the state violated foster children’s civil rights by moving them too frequently, which added to their trauma and restricted their access to mental health treatment.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy, an advocacy group, will supervise the state to determine whether it meets specific benchmarks within three to four years regarding children’s home placement and movement between homes.

Laura Howard, secretary for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said in a statement that the settlement “affirms our commitment to Kansas children.”

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