A pair of Kansas judges peppered a legislative task force Tuesday with concerns about staffing, bureaucratic and communication shortcomings of state government and private contractors responsible for care of children subjected to abuse or neglect.
The bipartisan Child Welfare System Task Force received fresh evidence the Kansas Department for Children and Families, in collaboration with two contractors, was operating a child-in-need-of-care system with social workers overwhelmed by deep caseloads, dysfunctional turnover among caseworkers, tardy and inaccurate reporting to the courts, unrealistic standards for reintegrating families and poor communication among DCF, contractors and the courts.
“Caseworkers are carrying enormous caseloads that prevent the attention these kids require,” said Taylor Wine, a district magistrate judge serving Osage, Franklin, Coffey and Anderson counties. “A common phrase in the courtroom is ‘the previous caseworker’ tied to a reason why something is not done or something is unknown.”
Wine said the state’s system was plagued by a snail-paced adoption process and lack of prompt drug or mental health services for adults in rural and urban areas.
“Not only do I agree those are issues, but I agree that he has identified some of the most important and glaring issues that we have. Absolutely,” said Wyandotte County District Court Judge Daniel Cahill, who serves on the child task force.
The 2017 Legislature formed the task force amid controversy about DCF’s supervision of thousands of children removed from homes in Kansas. DCF contracts with KVC Health Systems and Saint Francis Community Services in the privatized operation.
In 2016, the Legislature’s audit division said DCF put foster children at risk by failing to adopt eight of nine recommendations it received after a 2013 evaluation of the agency. DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore plans to retire Dec. 1, but Republican and Democratic legislators had called for her resignation from the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback, who has praised her service to the state. The task force’s meeting followed a legislative budget committee’s review of data showing the Brownback administration’s policy reforms made 44,000 low-income people ineligible for cash assistance at the same time the number of children in foster care grew.
In response to inquiries by the task force, DCF reported 77 children in foster care were missing as of Sunday. Ten were under the age of 11, while 32 ranged in age from 12 to 14.
“The question needs to be asked: What is the procedure being followed to find these kids? You absolutely worry about trafficking,” said task force member Barbara Bollier, a Senate Republican from Mission Hills.