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Panel Struggles With Idea of Ending Privatized Foster Care in Kansas

Kansas News Service file photo

State lawmakers and child advocates are digging through more than 100 recommendations for ways to improve foster care in Kansas. The panel is at least contemplating an end to the state’s privatized foster care system, but the suggestion caused heartburn for some members of the group.

The Child Welfare System Task Force is developing suggestions they’ll forward to Kansas lawmakers for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

At a meeting last week, Democratic state Representative Jarrod Ousley supported a recommendation to immediately study whether Kansas should continue with privatized foster care.

“We know we’re at a crossroads with our child welfare system in the state of Kansas," Ousley said. "This doesn’t say to de-privatize tomorrow. This says to evaluate the benefits of privatizing child welfare services.”

The state's current foster care program has been dogged by controversy in recent years. But even a frequent critic, Democratic Senator Laura Kelly, said it’s better to pursue immediate fixes, not wholesale changes.

“We’ve got to improve the system now," Kelly said. "We don’t have time to put into place a transition from what we’ve got to what we might want.”

Instead, the panel could recommend a long-term evaluation of privatized foster care. That would allow new foster care contracts, and corresponding changes, to take effect before a study would start.

The state should let those new contracts begin, said Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel. She said the new agreements will include stricter controls for the private organizations that handle much of the foster care system.

“I think we have a good plan, better than has ever been put forward before to oversee these contracts,” Meier-Hummel said.

The consideration comes after a 13-year-old girl was reportedly raped at the office of a foster care contractor earlier this year.

The group will finalize a set of recommendations later this year.

Stephen Koranda reports:

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