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A Kansas lawmaker says this foster care contractor has made too many mistakes to continue

Kansas News Service
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Kansas lawmakers are holding a special meeting to review foster care issues.

TOPEKA, Kansas — State Sen. Molly Baumgardner called on the Department for Children and Families on Tuesday to stop placing kids with one of its contractors and to claw back $12 million in tax dollars following several high-profile mistakes.

She wants to end the private agency’s foster care contract.

Cornerstones of Care is one of four contractors that manage the private foster care system in Kansas. Cornerstones oversaw the case of Ace Scott, a foster child who ran away earlier this year and was found dead days later.

“The death of Ace Scott is on Cornerstones of Care,” Baumgardner said at a news conference.

That nonprofit agency also manages a case where the DeHaven family took in a days-old infant who’s now a toddler and, her foster parents fear, might be taken away from the only family she’s known to be reunited with her biological siblings. Cornerstones wants all those siblings adopted by the same family.

Keeping siblings together is considered best practice in foster care, but the girl has spent less than 100 hours with their biological siblings. The DeHavens, and some legislators, worry that taking the child away now would dislocate her from the people she knows as parents.

“We were not going to be able to adopt all four kids,” Nicole DeHaven told The Kansas City Star. “So it was like an all-or-nothing thing.”

Cornerstones of Care couldn’t comment on specific cases, but it said in a statement that keeping children with siblings is supported by research.

“Allowances to separate siblings permanently requires permission from the court and should only be made under special circumstances,” the statement read.

The DeHavens filed a complaint with the Division of the Child Advocate, an independent oversight office that monitors Kansas foster care. But Baumgardner said that the advocate office hasn’t done enough to intervene in this case.

The Kansas News Service reported in September that the advocate has closed seven cases and has 69 open investigations, which Baumgardner says is a small load for an office with five people. But Child Advocate Kerrie Lonard says her caseload has not been sustainable during the first months of the office’s existence.

Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, Kansas, did not call for Lonard or DCF Secretary Laura Howard’s firing, but lawmakers have been generally critical of the state’s foster care system.

Some legislators say foster parents regularly fear retaliation and do not publicly complain about issues, that hundreds of foster parents have opted to let their licenses lapse in the past few years and that children are still sometimes sleeping in offices. Baumgardner pointed to the 37% success rate in completing goals laid out in a lawsuit settlement as an indication of trouble.

“I’m a former teacher. That’s a failing grade,” she said. “It’s a miserably failing grade.”

DCF said in a news release it made significant progress toward achieving the goals set out in the lawsuit.

“My administration inherited a broken child welfare system that had an unacceptable number of children in care, a lack of placement stability, and limited prevention services,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in that press release. “Under my administration, we now have 1,300 fewer children in the system. … There’s more work to be done, but this report shows we are headed in the right direction.”

Baumgardner and chair of the joint committee on Child Welfare Oversight, Susan Concannon, announced they will hold a special meeting to review these issues in the coming weeks.

“It is just a big, big ship to turn,” Concannon said. “There have been some positive things.”

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

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Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Blaise Mesa