A number of efforts have been undertaken since 2015 to provide oversight for the child welfare system in Kansas. A brief history of such efforts and recent developments follows.
Legislative Committees, Task Forces, and Working Groups
Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy
The Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) created this committee in 2015 (and again in 2016) to study Department for Children and Families (DCF) oversight of foster care contractors; study whether a working group would aid in addressing foster care concerns; and study the selection, qualification, and responsibilities of foster parents.
The 2015 Special Committee recommended evidence-based, peer-reviewed research on family structure be given high priority when considering best interests of children and making foster care placement decisions. Additionally, it recommended introduction of legislation that would create a statutory joint committee to oversee foster care.
The 2016 Special Committee recommended introduction of legislation establishing a foster care oversight task force, containing the language of 2016 HB 2585, as amended by the House Committee on Children and Seniors, which died on the House Calendar. Other recommendations included affirming and facilitating the visitation rights of biological parents and grandparents; and addressing, through standing or special committees, the Legislative Division of Post Audit audit findings and the DCF actions taken on the concerns raised regarding foster care and adoption in Kansas Child Welfare System Task Force
The 2017 Legislature passed House Sub. for SB 126, which directed the Secretary for Children and Families to establish a Child Welfare System Task Force to study the child welfare system in Kansas. The Task Force was composed of various entities and stakeholders, and it convened working groups to study the following topics: general administration by DCF; protective services; family preservation; reintegration; foster care; and permanency placement. The Task Force’s final report included 23 recommendations and was submitted to the 2019 Legislature.
Crossover Youth Working Groups
2016 SB 367 included a prohibition on the placement of youth in a juvenile detention center in certain circumstances and removed juvenile detention facilities as a placement option under the Child in Need of Care (CINC) Code unless the child is also alleged to be a juvenile offender and the placement is authorized under the Juvenile Code. The working groups’ reports can be found here.
Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight
In 2020, the LCC created this committee to receive input from families, social workers, and other stakeholders on progress and shortfalls in the State’s child welfare system, including quality of care for children in foster care, access to health and mental health services, trends in contributing factors, program outcomes from the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, and barriers to sharing information across the system; and to make recommendations to the Legislature to improve the State’s child welfare system.
Among its recommendations, the Special Committee recommended the Legislature establish a joint statutory committee for child welfare oversight and also establish an independent oversight agency that would provide advocacy services for persons involved in the child welfare system.
Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight
The 2021 Legislature established the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight with the passage of HB 2158. The Joint Committee is authorized to make recommendations and introduce legislation it deems necessary in performing its functions related to the review of the child welfare system, and is required to meet at least once each quarter.
The Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) has performed several audits related to the state’s foster care system since February 1987. Topics reviewed in these audits include: the health and safety of children in foster care; foster care case plan tasks and permanency outcomes; consistency across foster care service providers; the treatment of LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents; and decisions to remove children from their homes.
Kansas Division of the Child Advocate
Governor Kelly issued Executive Order 21-28 in October, 2021, to establish the Division of the Child Advocate within the Office of Public Advocates. The Office of Public Advocates is housed within the Department of Administration, but the Division of the Child Advocate functions as an independent state agency. The powers and duties of the Division of the Child Advocate include the following:
- Addressing complaints made by or on behalf of a child in the custody of the Secretary for Children and Families, or alleged to be a CINC, that relate to state agencies or other service providers;
- Establishing a procedure for receiving, processing, responding to, and resolving such complaints;
- Submitting findings and recommendations for changes to DCF;
- Accessing confidential records maintained by DCF; and
- Maintaining confidentiality.
Office of the Child Advocate Legislation
HB 2345, introduced in the 2021 Legislative Session, would have established the Office of the Child Advocate for Children’s Protection and Services within the Legislative Branch. SB 301, also introduced in the 2021 Legislative Session, would have established the Office of the Child Advocate within the Office of the Attorney General. Neither bill advanced to the Governor. [Note: As introduced, SB 301 contained similar subject matter to SB 120 and HB 2115 (establishing the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight) and HB 2345 (establishing the Office of the Child Advocate).]
Senate Sub. for HB 2153, recommended during the 2021 Legislative Session by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, contained amended language from SB 301 and died on the House calendar at the end of the 2022 Legislative Session.
Three bills during the 2023 Legislative Session included provisions that would establish the Office of the Child Advocate. Sub. for SB 232 remains in the House Committee on Child Welfare and Foster Care. Senate Sub. for HB 2070 incorporates provisions originally contained in Sub. for SB 232 and remains in conference committee with conferees appointed from the Senate Committee on Judiciary and the House Committee on Child Welfare and Foster Care. HB 2443 remains in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
by Iraida Orr, J.D.
Principal Research Analyst