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July 3, 2012
TOPEKA The Kansas Department on Children and Families has decided to rebid its contracts for foster care and family preservation services.
The agency plans to post a request for proposals on the Department of Administration website within two to three weeks.
“We are always looking at areas of practice that we can improve, and monitor best practices as they emerge around the country,” Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for DCF, wrote in an email to KHI News Service. “The new RFPs will build on these principles.”
De Rocha said DCF hopes to award the contracts early next year. The new contracts most likely would take effect in July 2013.
Kansas has about 5,100 children in its foster care system at any given time.
Typically, children enter the system because they have been abused or neglected by their parents or because their parents can’t control them. About 300 children enter and exit the system each month.
Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1996 after failing several court-ordered reviews. It now contracts with four non-profit service providers:
• United Methodist Youthville
• St. Francis Community Services
• TFI Services, Inc. (formerly known as The Farm),
• KVC Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. (formerly known as Kaw Valley Center).
The four providers signed four-year contracts with DCF’s predecessor, the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, in 2009. The contracts included two, two-year optional extensions.
DCF officials have decided not to extend the contracts.
“We believe it is incumbent upon us and in the best interest of the families we serve to continually review the service provided under these contracts,” de Rocha said. "This is nothing new. The agency did not take up the extension clauses and renew these contracts the last round (2005), either."
De Rocha declined comment on how the RFP might differ from current contracts.
Current contractors contacted by KHI News Service said they’ve not been told what to expect.
“I think it’s safe to assume that since they are putting the contracts out for bids, there will be changes,” said Melissa Ness, a spokeswoman for St. Francis Community Services. “But at this point we don’t know what those changes are.”
Ness said she expected all four current contractors would bid on the regional contracts. It remains to be seen whether one or more for-profit companies also submit bids.
“Anyone meeting the terms of the RFP may submit a proposal,” de Rocha said.
All of the current contractors, Ness said, are “…confident that our services in Kansas are among the best in the nation.”
In the fiscal year that began July 1, DCF expects to spend $138.8 million, all funds, on the foster care services; $10.2 million on services designed to preserve at-risk families and avoid having the children put in foster care.
The state’s family preservation contracts are with St. Francis Community Services and DCCCA, a Lawrence-based program.
DCF also oversees $32.9 million in adoption subsidies that help families offset the costs of caring for children with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
In recent years, children's advocates have encouraged state officials to extend the contracts in an effort to minimize the disruption and delays that come with a contract changing hands.
“Any time there’s a transition, there are delays. They’re unavoidable,” said Dona Booe, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Service League. “Our concern is that these delays can be harmful to a child’s well-being and ought to be avoided unless it’s been made really clear that a change in contractor will lead to significantly better outcomes.”
KCSL was awarded one of the initial foster care and family preservation contracts. It lost both contracts in 2005.
Last week, DCF announced that Kathe Decker had been named deputy secretary for family services.
Decker, who already runs the department’s public assistance and food stamp programs, also will oversee the foster care, family preservation, adoption, child support enforcement and vocational rehabilitation programs.
Decker replaces Jim Kallinger, who resigned earlier this month to return to Florida where he served as chief child advocate for the Florida governor’s office.
A former Republican legislator from Clay Center, Decker ran an appraisal company for 17 years. She’s been at SRS since July 2011.
"She has a career-long track record of working to strengthen families and improve the lives of the children of Kansas," said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. "And she also brings a great deal of fiscal common sense to this challenging job."
Decker oversaw policy changes at the social service agency earlier this year that prompted the state's 29 domestic violence shelters to decide that they would not renew their contracts with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which is now DCF.
The new policies, which drew flak from some legislators, required victims of sexual assault and domestic violence who apply for public assistance to have a psychological evaluation, take part in therapy, find a job and leave the state’s welfare rolls within 18 months.
Officials with the coalition that contracted with the state on behalf of the shelters said they thought the new requirements could potentially harm the women the shelters try to help.
Decker, 59, told members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee that she had been a teen mother once married to an abusive husband and that those personal experiences had helped reinforce the agency's decision to change the policies.
Decker also has overseen a controversial policy change that led to at least 1,000 children being dropped from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) program. The children – all of them low-income -- were U.S. citizens living in households headed by non-citizen parents.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.