In the first installment of our analysis of the audit against the DCF, we introduced you to the Legislative Division of Post Audit, the State office that holds the responsibility of conducting the audit against the State of Kansas Department of Children & Families. In Part 2 of our series, we will be looking at the Kansas DCF itself.
Kansas DCF… Private since 1997
Kansas became the first state to privatize its child protective services. In 1993 the state settled a lawsuit that alleged Kansas of having inadequate care, excessive caseloads, and poor outcomes in its child welfare system. After the settlement of the lawsuit, Kansas began the privatization process in a hurry. In 1997, that transition was completed.
Since 1997 the Kansas DCF has entered into contracts with private service providers to administer Kansas’ foster care program. Currently, the Kansas DCF holds contracts with two service providers; KVC Behavioral Healthcare, and St. Francis Community Services.
The foster care program is meant to offer preventive services in cases where child abuse or neglect is suspected. When these preventative services are not successful in protecting a child from danger, law enforcement is allowed to take the children into protective custody. At that point, Kansas DCF will ask the county or district attorney to petition the court to place the child in the department’s custody.
Once placed in protective custody, the child may be allowed reintegrated with the family. Reintegration can only begin with the written approval of the court. Case management workers are provided through contracts with the Kansas DCF to work with the child and the family in the reintegration process.
If reintegration is not possible parental rights may be terminated, or the Secretary of DCF is allowed to accept voluntary relinquishment. Once the parents have relinquished their rights, or they have been terminated the child becomes available for adoption.
Many have opposed the idea of privatizing the country’s child protection services. The main argument being that discretionary government functions, such as terminating parental rights, should be performed by public employees. To fully understand the dangers and risks of privatizing CPS, we need to understand how these services function and have a strong grasp of what it means to privatize these services.
The 4 Horsemen…
The duties of CPS can be broken down into four categories:
- Investigations are the first duty of CPS. The investigation process begins when concerns are noticed of a child possibly being in danger in their current environment.
- Case management includes decision-making, coordination between CPS and the family, and legal proceedings if needed.
- Services to the children and the families can include anger management, parenting classes, and drug rehabilitation when needed.
- Last but not least, if reintegration cannot be completed, CPS is responsible for providing foster care and adoption. (This process will also begin should the parent relinquish their parental rights.)
Now, to correctly understand how the privatization of these services is dangerous, it is helpful to consider these four duties in reverse.
Across the nation, CPS uses contracts with private agencies for the majority of their foster home services. In Kansas, foster homes are private agencies. St. Francis and KVC’s contracts give financial incentives for adopting children. Not for reintegrating them with their families.
Below are the contracts between DCF and St. Francis, and DCF and KVC. The incentives that are given show that there is a strong possibility that financial gain could be influencing decisions made in regards to severing a parent’s rights.
These private foster homes also receive payment for taking care of these children. The payment received varies depending on what each child’s needs are. If the child suffers from mental or physical disabilities, the reimbursement gathered is significantly higher. Once again, we are seeing another area where financial gain could be conflicting with what is best for the children.
The services provided to children and families, come from private agencies with contracts with Kansas DCF. Meaning, the possibility of financial gain for providing these services could be conflicting with what is best for the children and families.
Here we go…
Case management is where things can begin to get confusing. Private child care agencies do have “case managers” for the children in their care. However, these case managers do not perform or duplicate the case management done by DCF.
Private agencies make their suggestions as to what they think should happen with the child or family. The majority of the time the DCF will follow these private agencies recommendations. At the end of the day, it is the DCF case manager that will have to move for significant actions, such as terminating a parent’s rights.
These recommendations are still coming from these private agencies that are benefiting from keeping the children in state’s care. As seen in the contracts above, when a child is returned to their family, or adopted out, DCF and KVC no longer receive compensation.
The investigation process is the foot in the door. In Kansas, DCF spokesperson Theresa Freed has stated that 96% of the children in state custody were there for unsubstantiated charges. Freed later tried to go back on her words, claiming that people did not understand the meaning of the word unsubstantiated.
According to 2015, Child Welfare Fact Sheet released by the DCF, unsubstantiated is defined as follows.
An ‘unsubstantiated’ finding means the facts and circumstances do not provide clear and convincing evidence to meet the K.S.A. or K.A.R. definition of abuse or neglect.
The majority of the children in DCF custody are there under unsubstantiated charges. There are financial benefits for placing these children in the system for as long as possible. When you consider these two facts it would be foolish to believe that financial benefits are not a driving factor in the Kansas DCF. The privatization of the DCF is responsible for creating a strong conflict of interest. It raises concern that the children are not more important than the money.
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