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Oct. 22, 2012
TOPEKA In what could be a first for the state, if it is chosen, Kansas officials are considering contracting with an out-of-state organization to provide services for children in foster care.
Since the state privatized its foster care program in 1997, it has relied on a group of Kansas-based, non-profit organizations to manage the care provided to children who have been deemed wards of the state due to parental abuse or neglect.
Typically, there are about 6,000 children in the state’s foster care system at any given time. The state's lead foster care contractors collectively employ about 800 people.
Each of the organizations that have secured the state’s foster care contracts since the privatization initiative 15 years ago has been active for decades in Kansas child welfare services and are well known by the state’s foster care parents, welfare workers, and court and law enforcement officials.
The current contract holders are: TFI formerly known as The Farm, Inc., which has offices in Emporia and Topeka; KVC Behavioral Healthcare, Olathe; United Methodist Youthville, Wichita; and St. Francis Community Services, Salina.
Now, they face a potential, nonprofit competitor from Florida that provides similar services in multiple states: Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont.
“A large part of what we do is very similar to the work that’s being done in Kansas,” said David Dennis, chief executive of Eckerd, which was one of six organizations that met the state’s Sept. 20 deadline for submitting contract proposals.
Eckerd was founded in 1968 by Jack and Ruth Eckerd. The couple, now deceased, also started the Eckerd drug store chain in the 1950s.
In Florida, Dennis said, Eckerd manages the state’s foster care contracts in Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties.
“It’s pretty much the Tampa Bay area,” he said, noting the contracts there involve more than 6,100 children.
The State of Florida pays Eckerd about $120 million a year for its services. Kansas spends about $140 million a year on its foster care program, not counting about $10 million spent on family preservation programs.
“Our piece of what’s going on in Florida is larger than the (foster care) systems in 14 other states and the District of Columbia,” Dennis said.
Florida privatized most of its foster care system in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Another new entry to the contract competition is Olathe-based Kids TLC. The nonprofit organization has a history of providing child welfare services as a subcontractor, but has never before bid on a lead Kansas foster care contract.
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The group seeks to provide services in the region that includes Atchison, Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties.
“We’re known for having the largest PRTF (psychiatric residential treatment facility) in the state of Kansas,” said Jeremy Brenneman, the organization’s marketing and public relations coordinator. “But we also have a foster care program, an outreach program that goes out and looks for homeless and runaway kids, and a case management program that helps families that are at risk.”
Kids TLC is ready to expand its reach, he said, noting that its bid for the foster care work “really fits in with what we want to do.”
With the new contracts, which are expected to become effective July 1, 2013, the state is reducing its five foster care service regions to four. The new contracts are for four-year terms with two, optional, two-year extensions.
Organizations are allowed to bid on providing services in more than one of the four regions.
Ron Zychowski, Eckerd’s chief operating officer, said the Florida organization bid only on the regional contract that includes 25 counties in eastern Kansas.
He said the company would want to subcontract with current Kansas providers, if it is awarded the contract.
“It would not be our intent to replace existing agencies but to work with them in a manner that (would make) them stronger and improve the performance of the entire system of care,” he said.
Currently, the eastern Kansas regional contract is held by TFI.
Each of the current four providers has bid on one or more of the contracts.
State officials have not revealed which or how many of the regions the current contractors or the newcomers have bid on.
Three of the current foster care contractors — St. Francis Community Services, KVC Behavioral Health and TFI — also bid on the state’s family preservation contracts, which are on the same timeframe as the foster care contracts.
Also bidding on the family preservation contracts were Lawrence-based DCCCA and Cornerstones of Care in Olathe.
DCCCA and St. Francis Community Services currently hold the five family preservation contracts.
Cornerstones of Care operates several child welfare programs, mostly in the Kansas City, Mo. area.
“We work with about 3,000 kids a day in the Kansas City metropolitan area,” said Ryan Dowis, the organization’s chief operating officer. “Now, most of them are on the Missouri side, but we’ve been doing this for about 20 years now and we feel like we do it pretty well. So, we’re thinking it’s a good time to expand our operations in Kansas.”
Marillac, an inpatient psychiatric facility for children, is part of the Cornerstones of Care network. The hospital is in Overland Park.
Dowis said Cornerstones of Care bid only on the family preservation contract for the region that includes Atchison, Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties.
Family preservation refers to services designed to stabilize families thought to be at risk of having a child or children enter the foster care system.
State officials have added some new requirements for the upcoming contracts.
Effective July 1, 2013, each of the foster care contractors will be required to:
• Start an advisory board. Membership must include at least one former foster child, a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a parent who's being "served by the child welfare system," a legislator, an attorney, and someone representing the region’s schools and its mental health centers. The boards will meet quarterly and submit reports to the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
• Screen children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
• Provide DCF with written notification before a child is moved from one foster home to another. DCF will approve or disapprove the moves.
• Provide families that adopt foster children with supportive services for as long as needed. Currently, contractors are expected to provide follow-up services for only a year.
Angela de Rocha, a DCF spokesperson, declined to explain the reasons for the additional requirements, noting that until the contracts were awarded she was not allowed to comment on their provisions.
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