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Foster care contracts to change hands Monday

By Dave Ranney | June 28, 2013

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For the past four years, Kansas has paid four child welfare organizations to run the bulk of state government’s foster care, adoption, and family preservation programs.

That’s soon to change. After July 1, the services will be administered by two providers: KVC Behavioral Health Care in Kansas, which has 13 Kansas offices with main offices in Olathe, and St. Francis Community Services, which has 19 Kansas offices with headquarters in Salina.

Officials at the Kansas Department for Children and Families chose to not renew contracts with TFI Family Services of Emporia or United Methodist Youthville of Wichita.

The contract awards, which were announced in January, are expected to save the state approximately $7 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to DCF officials. The KVC contract is for $70.2 million; the St. Francis contract for $80.7 million.

Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the agency, said the bids from KVC and St. Francis were lower than those from Youthville and TFI Family Services.

“We were pleased with the responses to the RFP (request for proposals), but ultimately the selection was based on the lowest bid and some technical variations,” she said.

She said DCF officials had been satisfied with the performance of all four contractors.

DCF expects to spend $140.7 million on foster care, adoption, and family preservation contracts in Fiscal 2014.

Kansas privatized its foster care services in 1996 after what was then the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services was unable settle a 1989 lawsuit that accused the state of endangering the children in its care. The case, initially filed by a Topeka child welfare attorney, was later taken over by the American Civil Liberties Union Children's Rights Project.

Since 1997, the state’s foster care contractors have been required to meet several standards designed to protect the abused, neglected, and wayward children in their care, and either safely reunite them with their families or find them adoptive homes.

The lawsuit is no longer active.

Currently, KVC, formerly known as Kaw Valley Center, has the foster care contract for five counties in northeast Kansas: Atchison, Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte. After July 1, it will take on an additional 25 counties, all in the eastern part of the state.

St. Francis’ territory will increase from 53 counties to 75 counties, including Sedgwick County.

Spokespersons for St. Francis and KVC said their agencies had made concerted efforts to hire TFI and Youthville workers.

“We’ve been reaching out to them since January,” said Cheryl Rathbun, vice president in charge of clinical services at St. Francis. “We’ve hired as many of them as we were able, and we’re making sure that they’ll remain assigned to the caseloads they have now. But there will be some turnover because not everybody wanted to make the transition and some of the case workers applied for supervisor positions.”

‘We’re fortunate in that KVC used to have the contract — before TFI — for Southeast Kansas, so we’ve had a lot of (former employees) come back,” said Kyle Kessler, executive vice president of public affairs at KVC. “We’re very familiar with some of the staff we’ve been able to hire.”

Kessler said KVC had hired approximately 240 new workers and opened offices in Atchison, Hiawatha, Independence and Parsons. It is also expanding offices in Topeka and Pittsburg.

St. Francis, Rathbun said, had hired 275 new workers and opened offices in Concordia, Salina, Manhattan, Junction City, Wichita, and El Dorado. The company is expanding its Emporia office.

“Anytime there’s a transition like this you’re going to have glitches and I’m sure we will,” Rathbun said. “But we truly believe – and hope – that whatever glitches come up will be at the system level and won’t be felt by the children and families.”

TFI and Youthville will remain in business.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to lay some people off, but we’re still going to serve kids,” said Gerald Snell, senior vice president in charge of clinical services at Youthville. “We still have 350 foster homes across the state, we still do mental health, residential, and independent living. We still have our PRTF (psychiatric residential treatment facility) in Dodge City. So, yeah, we’re going through some changes, but that doesn’t mean we’re going away.”

Steve Solomon, director of public policy at TFI, said the agency has 700 foster homes in Kansas, a PRTF in Topeka, and several residential and independent living programs. It also involved in the foster care systems in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

“We still have a lot of irons in the fire,” he said.

KVC and St. Francis will continue to subcontract with Youthville and TFI.

In recent months, the numbers of children in foster care and those eligible for adoption have been increasing. According to the latest data from DCF:

  • 5,800 Kansas foster children were living in “out-of-home placements” in April. Six months earlier there were 5,550.
  • 978 children in foster care were available for adoption on April. Six months earlier there were 932.

Last month, Gina Meier-Hummel, director of the Division of Prevention and Protective Services at DCF, attributed the increases to the state’s sluggish economy and “a substance abuse problem.”

Rathbun agreed with Meier-Hummel’s assessment.

“When the economy is bad it puts a lot of stress on families and the number of kids in the system goes up,” she said. “The other thing is all the meth labs. We’re seeing a lot of kids because of that.”

Meier-Hummel recently left DCF for a position at the state Department for Aging and Disability Services.