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Kansas lawmakers push for leadership on foster care and an autonomous child advocacy office – Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — A Kansas senator says the Kansas Department of Children and Families lied in a foster home report, preventing the family from adopting a child who had lived with them his entire life.

At a Tuesday press conference at the Statehouse by several members of a foster care oversight committee, lawmakers accused the DCF of spreading misinformation about the child welfare system. Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, also called on DCF Secretary Laura Howard to stop sending foster children to state contractor Cornerstones of Care.

Baumgardner said she would end the contract with Cornerstones of Care at the snap of a finger if possible and would support a change in the direction of DCF. When asked what she would replace the contractor with, Baumgardner said she had no alternative in mind.

“I don’t know, but to continue what we’re doing knowing there are all these issues is to be blind to reality,” Baumgardner said in an interview after the press conference.

Cornerstones of Care holds the state contract to provide foster care services in the Kansas City area.

DCF spokesman Mike Deines said the department is working with Cornerstones of Care to improve the placement of children in foster care.

“Every day we strive to do our best for children in complex situations,” Deines said in a written statement to the Kansas Reflector. “We will continue to support the children in our care, including revising policies on how kinship – including sibling relationships – and attachment are considered in care decisions. We will also continue to work with Cornerstones of Care to improve their communication with families.

The press conference came a month before the November election, with concerns over the foster care system an issue in the campaign between gubernatorial candidates Derek Schmidt and Laura Kelly.

VSCommittee chair Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, said she wanted more transparency but did not want to comment on Cornerstones of Care or its handling of adoption cases. Concannon said she was just trying to get more information about the foster care system.

“It’s all so secret in the foster homes,” Concannon said. “For me, the solution was to develop this committee, which we did with my legislation a few years ago. But to have that oversight, we have to be able to have questions answered, and we keep having sleight of hand all the time.

Representative Susan Concannon said she simply wanted more transparency in the foster care system. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Baumgardner said she hears constant complaints from foster families across the state and said many foster families refuse to be fostered because of the way they are treated by DCF and contractors. of State.

In June, a federal surveillance agency discovered that Kansas had one of the highest rates of missing foster children from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020. Starting Monday, reported DCF 63 of the approximately 6,200 children placed in foster care were missing.

According to Baumgardner, 487 families have stopped fostering since May 2020, and the department has never explained why they decided to quit. Baumgardner also questioned the effectiveness of the new Children’s Advocate Division, citing the office’s 69 unresolved cases.

Kelly, the Democratic governor, created the division with an executive order to meet the demands of an overburdened foster care system after the House and Senate could not agree on a proposed office. Republicans criticized the move, saying children in foster care should have independent oversight, instead of being under the governor’s administration.

Baumgardner and other lawmakers at the meeting said they would push for legislation that would put the Children’s Lawyer Division under statute, removing it from governor oversight and making it fully autonomous.

“We have organizations with DCF that have really let our children and our families down in Kansas,” Baumgardner said.

Nicole and John DeHaven talk about their experiences with the foster care system ahead of Monday's committee meeting.  (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Nicole and John DeHaven talk about their experiences with the foster care system ahead of a committee meeting in September. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

The committee plans to meet soon to review the DeHaven family’s case. The couple spoke at the September 12 meeting of the Kansas Child Welfare Oversight Committee, asking that their situation be reviewed. Nicholas DeHaven and her husband, John, have raised their adopted daughter since she was three days old, alongside their adopted 2-year-old son.

When the DeHavens tried to adopt him, the couple were told they would have to adopt his three half-siblings as well. They declined because they did not have enough resources to care for additional children and were later deemed unsuitable to adopt their adopted daughter, who is now expected to be adopted along with her half-siblings.

At one point during the hour-long press conference, Baumgardner released a printed Facebook post of the siblings in question. She had scribbled their faces in black ink for privacy. The Adopt Kansas Kids post said the siblings had a close relationship and wanted to be adopted together.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Baumgardner said. “At most, she spent 100 hours of her life with these older siblings. Is it a close relationship?

Representative Suzi Carlson, R-Clay Center, said she deplores the practice of posting eligible adoptive children on Facebook.

“That’s what they do for animal shelters,” Carlson said.

Baumgardner said the proposed foster family posted a GoFundMe, soliciting funds for beds, mattresses, clothing and other items needed to support the siblings.

She said DCF misreported the DeHavens because the report incorrectly stated that there was no emotional bonding assessment for the DeHavens’ adopted daughter.

“Most of the accusations we received from our DCF secretary are inaccurate. To me, that makes it a lie and it’s insulting to me as an elected legislator,” Baumgardner said.

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