Kansas foster care advocates settle lawsuit against the state

The settlement ends a court fight that began in late 2018, and will require the state to better track foster children in its care.

by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

Lawrence, Kansas — The state of Kansas has settled a class-action lawsuit with attorneys who represent Kansas foster children.

Advocates sued the state in November 2018, arguing Kansas was not providing enough mental health care and shuffled children between homes too frequently. The long-troubled system has been criticized for, among other things, having children sleep in offices due to a lack of available homes.

The settlement, which was filed Wednesday but won’t take effect until a judge approves the terms and all foster children are notified, requires the state to stop making frequent moves and to track the children more carefully. Earlier this week, Gov. Laura Kelly announced the creation of a foster care report card, which will also track outcomes.

“It’s just a really good improvement for kids,” said Teresa Woody, an attorney for the nonprofit Kansas Appleseed, who was part of the group representing Kansas foster children.

Over a four-year period, the settlement requires the state to:

• Stop housing foster children in hotels, motels, cars, stores, offices, unlicensed homes or any other non-child-welfare housing.
• Authorize and provide mental health treatment in a timely manner.
• Make sure no foster care placements go over capacity.
• Make crisis intervention services available to foster children statewide.
• Stop putting children in a different home every night by the end of 2021.
• Stop putting children in short-term placements by the end of 2023.
• Comply with each required improvement for at least 12 months straight.
• Carefully track all movements of foster children, including the number of children who end up in jail, prison or another juvenile justice placement.
• Include the changes in grants within 30 days of the settlement.
• Create an advisory group consisting mostly of people knowledgeable about or involved in foster care to oversee the process and make suggestions.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy, an advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C., New York and California, will oversee the changes and make sure the state reaches the following benchmarks within three or four years:

• No children being moved more than four times per 1,000 days in foster care.
• 90 percent of a random sample of foster children being in a stable placement.
• 90 percent of a random sample of children having one move or less in the past year.
• 90 percent of a random sample of children receiving timely mental health screening.

The settlement also requires Kansas to make the changes regardless of available funding.

Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Laura Howard said in a statement that the agreement “affirms our commitment to Kansas children.”

Howard told the State Finance Council earlier in the day that “the terms could be achieved within the current caseload budget,” according to an email from DCF spokesman Mike Deines.

Advocates initially sued the DCF, the Kansas Department for Health and Environment, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and former Gov. Jeff Colyer in 2018. Gov. Laura Kelly was added to the lawsuit when she took office, but was later removed when a judge agreed with Kelly’s argument that she didn’t oversee the system.

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. You can email her at nomin (at) kcur (dot) org and follow her on Twitter @NominUJ.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2020-07-08/kansas-foster-care-advocates-settle-lawsuit-against-the-state.

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