The alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl while she was waiting for a foster care placement in May has many asking about consequences for the contractor, responsible that day for both the girl and the 18-year-old accused of assaulting her.
On a Facebook Live session Wednesday, Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel fielded a question about why the contractor hasn’t been dropped.
A day before, lawmakers promised tough questioning of KVC Kansas officials at this month’s meeting of a task force investigating the Kansas child welfare system.
Kansas privatized its foster care system in the mid-1990s. KVC Kansas handles foster care for the Kansas City area and the eastern part of the state. St. Francis Community Services covers Wichita and western Kansas.
Since privatization, DCF has only penalized a contractor financially once, when Meier-Hummel worked in DCF’s Office of Prevention and Protection Services.
Meier-Hummel said financial repercussions were discussed after the incident at KVC Kansas’ Olathe office, and could still be on the table for a provider failing to meet expectations in child safety. But she said KVC Kansas hasn’t been financially sanctioned for the alleged assault.
That doesn’t mean the contractor couldn’t still stand to lose a lot more money.
The current child welfare contracts run out at the end of June. New four-year grants to manage foster care and family preservation will be awarded in December.
Meier-Hummel said past performance comes into play when the agency is weighing who can be trusted with the state’s kids.
She said that when kids get hurt because of “a lapse in judgment,” as KVC described the social worker leaving youth in the office unattended, that’s one factor that could swing a contract over to a different provider.
Because they’re carrying out the state’s responsibilities to foster kids, contractors are bound by no-eject, no-reject policies — meaning they have to serve every child DCF refers to them.
Taking every child has become complicated as larger numbers of kids have flooded into the foster care system over the past several years. More than 7,000 children are currently in state custody, up from 5,500 in 2013. That’s overloaded capacity and contributed to hundreds of kids sleeping in contractor offices over the past year.
May, the month of the alleged rape, was a peak month for KVC Kansas. It kept 49 kids overnight that month. The contractor then drove that number down to zero, not keeping any kids overnight again until the end of August, when three kids spent the night.
KVC Kansas spokeswoman Jenny Kutz said in an email that keeping children out of offices “is a daily challenge because of a lack of placements in communities.”
DCF and its providers have been working to add beds to the system that can help children with a range of ages and needs. Many of the children who stay in an office overnight are hard to place, often because they’re older, have acute mental health needs or have a history of violent or delinquent behavior.
Meier-Hummel said the agency is also working to divert kids away from the foster care system when it’s safely possible by working with families to connect them with resources and build parenting skills that will allow kids to remain with their parents.
The number of kids in care has been decreasing each month for the past five months, which could point to progress. However, the number of children coming into care will often slow in the summertime as teachers, who are legally required to report abuse, don’t have access to kids.
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.
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