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July 11, 2012
TOPEKA After reviewing 23 "problematic" foster care cases, legislative auditors have concluded that the cases were handled appropriately.
"The decisions to remove all 23 children were reasonable because the available evidence supported serious concerns about the children’s safety," auditors wrote. "In most cases there was more than one reason cited for removing the children, including physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect in 22 of the 23 cases."
The auditors' report was made public Tuesday but was largely overshadowed by another audit report that found serious problems with the way a state juvenile correctional facility in Topeka was operated and managed.
The foster care audit was ordered by legislators in September 2011 after various parents and grandparents had complained that the cases involving their children had been mishandled.
The appointment in March by Gov. Sam Brownback of Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, met opposition from some aggrieved family members upset that their children had been declared state wards. They said Gilmore had not been aggressive enough investigating complaints against social workers when she was executive director of the Behavioral Science Regulatory Board.
The auditors focused on nine case files involving 23 children, including some of those brought to the attention of legislators. The cases were chosen for review because each had been questioned or criticized by parents or grandparents.
Auditors said their report shouldn't be interpreted as a finding that the entire foster care system was working properly, but said their conclusions were buttressed by an earlier state audit that focused on 36 cases and also concluded that the actions of case workers had been justified and in keeping with state policies.
They also said that many of the complaints from family were based on incomplete information. Many aspects of a foster care case must remain confidential, so family members aren't always fully informed of the factors in a particular decision.
Auditors also noted that the cases tend to be emotionally charged.
"Because foster care cases are emotional and highly contentious, parents generally will have concerns or complaints about their foster care case," the auditors wrote.
The report also noted that parents or family members have various avenues for disputing or appealing decisions in a foster care case.
The auditors offered no recommendations for system improvements and their report was concurred with by officials at the Department for Children and Families.
Kansas has about 5,200 children in state custody at any given time. In fiscal 2011, it cost the state about $211 million to operate its foster care system, auditors reported.
“I think the audit shows that Kansas’ child welfare system can work very effectively when DCF, the courts, law enforcement and the child welfare contractors all work together," said Kyle Kessler, a spokesman for KVC Behavioral Health, one of the state's four foster care contractors. “But we also realize that the system isn’t perfect, and we always want to improve.”
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