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Kansas lawmaker says this foster care contractor made too many mistakes to continue

TOPEKA, Kansas— State Senator Molly Baumgardner on Tuesday called on the Department of Children and Families to stop placing children with one of its contractors and recoup $12 million in taxes following several mistakes very publicized.

She wants to end the private agency’s foster care contract.

Cornerstones of Care is one of four contractors operating the private foster care system in Kansas. Cornerstones oversaw the case of Ace Scotta foster child who ran away earlier this year and was found dead days later.

“Ace Scott’s death is on Cornerstones of Care,” Baumgardner said at a press conference.

This non-profit agency also handles a case where the From Haven The family welcomed a baby a few days old who is now a toddler and, her adoptive parents fear, could be taken away from the only family she knows to be reunited with her biological siblings. Cornerstones wants all of these siblings to be adopted by the same family.

Keeping siblings together is considered best practice in foster care, but the girl spent less than 100 hours with her biological siblings. The DeHavens and some lawmakers worry that taking the child away will alienate her from people she knows as parents.

“We weren’t going to be able to adopt all four kids,” Nicole DeHaven told the Kansas City Star. “So it was like an all-or-nothing thing.”

Cornerstones of Care could not comment on specific cases, but said in a statement that keeping children with siblings is supported by research.

“Permissions for the permanent separation of siblings require court permission and should only be granted in special circumstances,” the statement said.

The DeHavens filed a complaint with the Division of the Child Advocate, an independent monitoring office that monitors Kansas foster families. But Baumgardner said the attorney’s office did not do enough to intervene in the case.

The Kansas News Service reported in September that the attorney closed seven cases and had 69 investigations opened, which Baumgardner said is a small load for a five-person office. But Children’s attorney Kerrie Lonard says his workload was unsustainable for the first few months of the office’s existence.

Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, Kansas, did not call for the firing of Lonard or DCF Secretary Laura Howard, but lawmakers have generally criticized the state’s foster care system.

Some lawmakers say foster parents routinely fear retaliation and don’t publicly complain about problems, that hundreds of foster parents have chosen to let their licenses expire in recent years, and that children still sometimes sleep in desks. Baumgardner pointed to the 37% success rate in achieving the goals set out in a trial settlement as a sign of trouble.

“I am a former teacher. It’s a failing grade,” she said. “It’s a miserably failed note.”

The DCF said in a press release that it had made significant progress toward achieving the goals set out in the lawsuit.

“My administration inherited a broken child welfare system that had an unacceptable number of children in care, a lack of placement stability and limited prevention services,” Governor Laura Kelly said in this Press release. “Under my administration, we now have 1,300 fewer children in the system. … There is still work to be done, but this report shows that we are moving in the right direction.

Baumgardner and the Chair of the Joint Committee on Child Protection Oversight, Susan Concannon, announced that they will hold a special meeting to consider these issues in the coming weeks.

“It’s just a big, big ship to turn around,” Concannon said. “There have been some positive things.”

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at [email protected]

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health, and how they relate to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news outlets free of charge with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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