Kansas foster care system to get federal court docket mandated overhaul

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (WIBW) – The care system in Kansas is about to see some dramatic changes in the way children place and mental health in government care.

Kansas Appleseed said Friday a federal judge announced that it would approve a settlement agreement between attorneys representing nearly 7,000 foster children and Kansas state officials. Approval is expected to be granted in the week of January 25th.

According to the organization, the settlement will bring about transformative structural changes in the state’s broken welfare system by ending the extreme instability of housing and ensuring that children receive the mental health care they need. It is said that foster children have been traumatized for years by the system that was designed to protect them, lack access to mental health resources, and jump from house to house, some as much as 100 times.

“The settlement is the first step in ensuring that children in foster families not only survive the trauma experienced but thrive,” said Larry Rute, plaintiff’s co-counsel. “While not going to happen immediately, these changes will help ensure that foster children are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, rather than becoming a statistic in the tragic foster-prison pipeline of being homeless or under serious illness suffer persistent mental illness. “

Kansas Appleseed said Friday’s approval hearing was the final step before key practice reforms and benchmarks were implemented, which will begin immediately and be followed on a regular basis over the next three to four years. An independent, neutral advisor will review, validate and report on the defendant’s performance and progress in meeting the settlement obligations.

According to Kansas Appleseed, the settlement is the result of the MB v Howard (originally MB v Colyer) class action lawsuit filed in November 2018. The plaintiff’s co-counsel team includes the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Kansas attorney and child welfare specialist Lori Burns-Bucklew, the National Center for Youth and Children’s Rights, and the global law firm DLA Piper. Defendants in the settlement are Secretary Laura Howard of the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and Secretary Dr. Lee A. Norman of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“All foster children have the right to stable nursing homes that meet their mental health needs, and our settlement agreement is ultimately moving Kansas in that direction,” said Leecia Welch, plaintiff’s co-counsel and senior director at the National Center for Youth Rights said. “This lawsuit is a win-win not only to the foster children but also to any child who will ever enter the state foster care in Kansas.”

Kansas Appleseed said the settlement requires structural changes and measurable outcomes, all of which are aimed at improving residential stability and mental health support for children in DCF care. The main reforms are as follows:

  • Practice Improvements – The agreement mandates five areas of practice change that government agencies must reach for a period of 12 months and then maintain for an additional period of 12 months to end judicial oversight. It says:
    • Ending the practice of placing children in inappropriate locations such as offices and hotels
    • Ending the practice of short-term internships from night to night
    • Make sure the placements are not overcrowded or exceed the licensed capacity
    • Ending housing-related delays in the provision of mental health services
    • Providing crisis intervention services for children
  • Results – Billing requires five measurable child outcomes improvements that are made over periods greater than three to four years. If government agencies hit the final target result after running in, they will need to hold it for an additional 12 months to end judicial oversight. It says:
    • Achieve a low average number of placement moves, approximately 4.4 moves or less per 1,000 days of care
    • Addressing mental health needs and behavioral health care for at least 90% of children
    • Ensure that current internships are stable for at least 90% of the children
    • Restriction of placement changes to one train over 12 months for at least 90% of the children
    • Provide initial mental health and trauma screening within 30 days of entering government care for at least 90% of children
  • Federal Court Enforceability – If the settlement is approved, it will be a fully enforceable federal court order binding on DCF, KDHE, and KDADS and all current and future officials of these agencies.
  • Contract Oversight – The settlement is binding, regardless of whether the service is provided by the government agencies or by providers contracted by agencies or other agreements with the state, and the obligations arising from the settlement become part of all contracts.
  • Neutral Achievement Validation Expert – The Settlement appoints Judith Meltzer and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a highly respected group on child welfare policy, to independently validate Kansas achievement.
  • New Structure of Community Accountability – The deal requires a new independent advisory group that is heavily involved with non-government stakeholders such as providers, parents and youth. The group could make public recommendations for changes, and government agencies would have to respond to all recommendations in writing.

You can find more information about the lawsuit here.

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