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May 15, 2012
TOPEKA Budget negotiators for both the House and Senate have tentatively agreed to spend $1 million on an initiative aimed at keeping at-risk children out of the state’s foster care system.
“This is a really good preventive program,” said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. “It’s been successful in other states. We’re just trying to bring it to Kansas.”
The initiative, called “differential response,” has yet to be formally approved by a House-Senate conference committee that declared impasse on Tuesday because of remaining disagreements on other matters. And whatever budget plan ultimately comes out of the negotiations would still need approval from the House and Senate and the governor's signature.
If the plan is approved, SRS would hire 20 additional social workers to work with families that appear to be at-risk of child abuse or neglect.
“We have situations in which a social worker goes out and investigates a report of alleged child abuse and doesn’t find direct evidence of abuse or neglect,” de Rocha said. “But the social worker is uneasy about the situation because the risk factors are there.”
Currently, she said, the social worker is likely to file a report that says the abuse or neglect could not be substantiated. That ends the matter unless or until a new complaint is filed.
But with the differential response initiative, de Rocha said, the social worker would be allowed to offer the family "wrap-around" services designed to prevent the problems that could lead to a new complaint.
“It would be an offer,” she said, referring to the services. “It would not be required.”
At least 20 states already have similar policies in place, according to the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services.
"The whole idea is to bolster families so children don't have to be removed from their home," de Rocha said.
According to SRS, the agency investigates almost 2,600 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect each month. About 6 percent of the reports are confirmed.
About 5,100 children are in the state’s foster care system at any given time. About 300 children enter and exit the system each month.
The average length of stay is 18 months.
The reasons most often cited for removing children from their homes are:
• Parents’ substance abuse, 19 percent;
• Physical abuse of the child, 15 percent;
• Neglect, 12 percent;
• Lack of supervision, 8 percent;
• A child’s problem behavior, 8 percent;
• A parent or guardian’s inability to cope, 7 percent;
• Sexual abuse, 6 percent.
Half of the children removed from their homes are ages six or younger.
Though Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1996, SRS remains responsible for investigating reports of abuse and neglect. Its social workers also assist the courts in deciding whether a child should be in foster care and when they may return to their families.
Dona Booe, executive director with the Kansas Children’s Service League, said the differential response initiative was long overdue.
“It would be a good investment in improving the front end of the child protection system,” Booe said. “We’ll certainly be talking to SRS and to legislators about it.”
The initial $1 million, she said, would be “a good first step toward shoring up the basic resources that are needed to meet demand.”
The initiative was not the subject of committee hearings in either the House or the Senate this year. It was amended into the House budget plan during floor debate.
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