- Kelly appointed Howard as interim leader in January and put a halt on grants within the agency
- Kansas became the first state to privatize its adoption and foster services in 1996
- Audits showed privatizing increased the number of children in foster care and adoption services due to financial incentive
- According to the Kansas Health Institute, Howard “had a hand” in
privatizing much of the state’s child welfare system
Last month, Kansas’ new governor Laura Kelly began dealing with the serious issues inside the state’s child protection services by appointing Laura Howard as interim leader of both the Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and halting questionable grants within the agency.
Over the last couple of years, DCF has seen a number of problems that range from leaving several children in abusive situations where they were later brutally murdered, children in foster care running away, wrongful removals and even forcing children to sleep in offices due to having nowhere to place them. These are just a few of the problems the public know of because DCF acts in secrecy what appears to be nobody holding the agency accountable. When issues with DCF are brought to the public’s attention, it is common practice for the agency to hide behind laws intended to protect children’s privacy rights. Over twenty years ago, Howard played a key role in shrouding the agency in secrecy.
Before DCF was in charge of child protection services in Kansas it was the responsibility of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. In 1989 Shawnee County attorney Rene Netherton — who was a guardian ad-litem (court-appointed legal guardian) for some children in foster care at the time — launched a lawsuit against SRS over the care of children in the agency’s custody. In 1990, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Children’s Rights Project were able to amend the lawsuit into a class-action against the entire state for their part in operating a dangerous child protection system.
The suit named former Governor Mike Hayden, but when Governor Joan Finney took office her name was substituted. Other names in the suit included Secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the Commissioner of Youth Services, the Director of the Kansas Children in Need of Care Program, and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). The lawsuit proved the Child In Need of Care (CINC) program was causing massive amounts of harm and almost no help to families.
In June of 1993, the ACLU reached a settlement with the court. The settlement had numerous requirements SRS had to adhere by with specified deadlines. The requirements were related to protective services, preventative services, case planning and reviews, placements, services, adoption, named plaintiffs, financial resources, staffing, training, information systems, Program Analysis Unit, monitoring, compliance, termination, and enforcement.
Performance audits conducted in 1990 and 1991 by the Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) showed serious weaknesses in regards to the Kansas foster system. A 1998 audit described children as “languishing in foster care for extended periods, being shuffled from one home to another, not getting the services they needed, and continuing to be abused or neglected.”ctte_spc_2015_special_committee_on_foster_care_adequ_1_20151112_10_other
The report also read that SRS failed to “assess the needs of children and families; provide the services ordered or recommended; house children in the types of facilities recommended; place children close to their families; provide courts with the information needed to decide whether to return children to their families; timely pay foster parents or providers; consider the good of children over finances; and adequately address complaints or violations.”
From the ACLU settlement in 1993, SRS had a total of 153 requirements to meet by a set time. By 1996, the agency had not met all the requirements and SRS officials notified the Kansas Legislature they were moving towards privatizing the state foster care system to provide better care for the children. Adoption services were first to privatize in October 1996, and foster services followed in February 1997. SRS split the state into five regions and agencies bid to be contractors for one or more regions. That February, contracts were awarded to three non-profit agencies.
Kansas was the first state to privatize their CPS agency. Since then, every CPS agency in the country has privatized its adoptive and foster care systems without knowing if privatization made things better or worse. A 2001 audit from the LPA showed that SRS did not have accurate information on funding before privatization, so they were unsure how much to pay the contractors. Initially, contractors complained of not receiving enough funding to cover costs, which led to more money being pushed into the foster and adoption systems.
The LPA analysis found that adoptions had increased while the percentage of children adopted had decreased. The percentage of children placed with prospective adoptive families had decreased under privatization as well. The audit suggested the growth in the adoption system could have been the results of a surge of children in foster care, which more result in more children entering adoption.
The audit also found an incentive for contractors to refer children to the adoption system as quickly as possible, mainly they would not receive final payments until the children left foster care. According to the contract, a foster contractor could not refer the child to adoption services unless the rights of the parent had been terminated. This resulted in an immediate spike in efforts towards terminating parental rights. SRS later changed the practice so foster care providers received a monthly base pay per child, and removed the adoption referral provision.
The years between 1996 and 2000 were a crucial time where officials repackaged a broken system then sent it on its way to become the failing agency riddled with issues it is today and Howard was at ground zero the entire time. According to Howard’s Linkedin, Howard was a Principal Analyst for the Kansas Legislative Research Department from 1984 to 1997. From 2000 to 2011, it states Howard was the Deputy Secretary for SRS, leaving 1997 to 2000 blank.
According to the Kansas Health Institute, Howard began working for SRS in 1996. In a KHI report published on May 20, 2011, after Howard was laid off, she was accredited for “closing two state hospitals, privatizing much of the state’s child welfare system, implementing federal welfare reform measures, and overseeing Medicaid.” Howard had also been in charge of health care policy and also served as the agency’s chief financial officer. The agency did not comment on Howard’s departure. Almost eight years after she was laid off, Howard is back in charge of an agency in shambles after she appears to have played a key role in getting it to its current state.