Secretary Laura Howard touts progress made in Kansas foster care system over past two years
Last week, Gov. Laura Kelly issued a proclamation recognizing May as Foster Care Month in Kansas. While this symbolic recognition is important, the significant progress we’ve made under Gov. Kelly’s leadership to recreate a comprehensive child well-being system cannot be overstated.
When we began our work in 2019, we inherited an overwhelmed system.
Before 2019, youths in care moved too frequently between placements, spent too much time in offices instead of with families, and Kansans were limited by few support systems outside of foster care.
After taking office, Gov. Kelly immediately instructed the Kansas Department of Children and Families to reform not just the foster care system but the entire child welfare apparatus in Kansas to better serve our children and families.
By staying focused and intentional, we’ve made significant progress to ensure our children and families in foster care have the services they need to thrive. Since 2019, our work has resulted in:
• An overall reduction in demand for foster care from nearly 7,600 in 2018 to 6,800 children in April 2021.
• A 51% reduction in the rate of moves for foster youths per 1,000 days in care.
• A dramatic reduction of youth staying in offices from 129 in state fiscal year (SFY) 2020 to 59 in SFY 2021.
• Additional support for older youth, including employment support through local businesses and programs designed to help with the costs of driver’s education, licensing, and auto insurance.
• Enhanced mental health support and the creation of a mobile youth crisis support service that will launch this fall to serve all youth and families in Kansas.
• Further, Kansas was one of the first states to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act and prioritize evidence-based prevention techniques. In the first 15 months of the program, 91% of children in the program for 12 months remained at home without the need for foster care — that’s nearly 1,500 children who did not enter foster care because of this program.
But our work isn’t done yet.
DCF is working with our judicial partners to continue reducing the time before finding a permanent placement, especially in our urban areas.
We are making progress in addressing racial equity and reducing the disproportionate number of children of color in the foster care system.
We know children thrive best in families, and we’re focused on relative placements for youth in care. From fiscal year 2019 to now, DCF has increased the rate of relative placement from 33% to 40% — we’re on our way to meeting our goal of a 50% relative placement rate.
Additionally, we’ve partnered with the Kansas Department of Education to improve education outcomes and reduce the need for formal contact with the child welfare system.
Stakeholders across Kansas — public and private child welfare professionals, foster parents, relative and kinship caregivers, tribal organizations, and advocates - are all deserving of credit for these achievements and their work to provide youth in foster care with the support and respect they deserve.
Strong family support networks and essential services like child well-being systems in Kansas do more than help our children. They recruit new families to move to our state, support a strong workforce that will contribute to our economy, and increase the quality of life for all Kansans by ensuring more productive and prosperous future generations.
Governor Kelly’s tireless efforts to reinvest in these services and her consistent partnership have created a new model for Kansas. This improved and transparent working relationship between the State of Kansas and our many stakeholders has laid the groundwork for all Kansas children to reach the stars.
Laura Howard is the secretary of Department for Children and Families and the Department of Aging and Disability Services agencies.