Kansas lawmaker seeks end of privatized foster care system
Topeka A Republican Kansas lawmaker is calling for an end to the state's first-in-the-nation privatized foster care system, as it nears its 20th anniversary with increasing scrutiny and a record number of children in foster homes.
Rep. Mike Kiegerl, an Olathe Republican, wrote a report titled "When Children Die We Must Act" in which he concluded that the mid-1990s privatization wasn't successful, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
"It grieves the author of this report who as an economist fervently believes in private-sector efficiency to categorically state that this program as currently in place ought to be eliminated. Perhaps another method of privatizing services could be studied," Kiegerl wrote.
His report was among more than 100 pages of documents provided to the Legislature's Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy, which met for one day last month and hopes to get permission to meet again.
The Department for Children and Families, which oversees the state's foster care contractors, has been facing questions and criticism in recent months over the deaths of multiple children in the foster care system.
The scrutiny intensified after a Topeka city councilman and his wife were charged in November with child abuse. The couple have 17 children, including multiple foster and adoptive children.
Kiegerl prepared his report before the couple, Jonathan and Allison Schumm, were arrested. The report notes that the state spends about $283 million every two years on foster care, not counting payments to foster parents.
The report called caseworker turnover a serious problem that creates extra work for DCF employees, disrupts procedures and increases expenses. It concludes that contractors must have healthy profit margins in order to pay a CEO of one of the contractors $650,000 a year.
In 1997, Kansas became the first state to privatize its foster care system, partly in response to a 1989 class-action lawsuit that accused DCF — then known as Social and Rehabilitation Services — of failing to adequately care for abused and neglected children.
DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told lawmakers last month there are about 6,600 children in foster care in Kansas — a record high — and 2,826 licensed foster homes.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he opposed privatization when the change was made and continues to do so.
"I believe it's been an abject failure, particularly in taking the best interest of children in mind. I believe too many decisions are made that are based on money," Hensley said.