Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Legislators to Mull System Audit ; Committee May Choose to Order Check of DCF's Efforts to Protect Children in Foster Care

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Legislators to Mull System Audit ; Committee May Choose to Order Check of DCF's Efforts to Protect Children in Foster Care

Article excerpt

Lawmakers will hear a request Wednesday to approve an audit of the state's foster care system that would seek to answer whether the Department for Children and Families takes sufficient steps to ensure child safety and if contractors have enough capacity to provide needed services.

Reps. Jim Ward and Ed Trimmer, both Democrats, will approach the Joint Legislative Post Audit Committee with their proposal. The lawmakers are citing a number of incidents -- including the 2013 beating death of Hiawatha boy Mekhi Boone -- in arguing for the audit.

The state's privatized foster care system has faced scrutiny in recent months, notably over the death of 4-year-old Mekhi, as well as the December death of Caleb Blansett, 10, of Wellington.

Ultimately the audit would come down to making sure children are being taken care of, Ward indicated. If approved by the committee, the audit could take about five months.

"The question is: Are we doing everything in our power to prevent any children from being killed, and when one does get killed are we doing the appropriate follow-up" to make sure it doesn't happen again? Ward said.

A scope statement prepared for consideration by the post audit committee lays out in detail what answers Trimmer and Ward are seeking and the background behind the audit request. Legislators have expressed concerns DCF's foster care removal and reunification process may not be sufficient to keep children safe, and that foster care contractors may not have sufficient capacity to provide necessary services, the statement says.

The statement says auditors would interview department officials and review documents to understand the department's process for removing children from their families and reuniting them, with the goal of determining specifically what types of stipulations parents must agree to and the reasons behind those agreements, as well as whether they are allowed by law.

Auditors also would identify foster care best practices from professional associations, such as the National Association of Social Workers. An evaluation of the foster care system would be performed based on a sample of cases.

Additionally, auditors would interview foster care contractor officials and determine contractor caseloads before and after receiving state contracts. …

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