The joint committee of the Kansas House and Senate convened for two days to explore what ails the state's foster care system. during 15 hours of testimony and questioning a diverse collection of foster parents, academics, lawyers, contractors, state officials and others delved into their experiences with a system responsible for 7000 children in need of care. The duty is immense. The challenge is complex and solutions seemingly beyond the grasp. This Kansas reflector podcast is taking you into the capitol to hear from a sampling of people who live and work in foster care will wrap up with a rundown of reform ideas lawmakers expect to offer in the upcoming 2023 legislative session. Let's begin with Megan Mansoor of Wichita adoption and foster care attorney for nearly 15 years. She presented the child welfare system Oversight Committee, unvarnished observations through the eyes of a lawyer operating in a privatized system overseen by the Kansas Department for Children and Families and managed on a day to day basis by private contracting agencies.
I am very happy to be here. I am very happy that you're taking up this issue. It is this is a very tough job that one that you all have and also that DCF has and the agencies have. I certainly I know you've heard a lot of testimony and you've heard from a lot of great people. I do think we can start with the you know, bases that everyone has good intentions. We're asking these foster parents to do an impossible job. And I will tell you, maybe I shouldn't admit to this, but I had people call me and ask me about foster care versus private adoption. And I'm like, well, it is really hard for me to advise people that do foster care. Because of the cases that I get. I mean, I will tear up now. It's hard, because you have to be ready to let a child go.
Rick Gaskill, who had a 46 year career in community mental health counseling, also addressed the legislative committee. He's worked with 1000s of children, many of whom were in foster care, or were up for adoption themselves. Gaskell for 27 years and adjunct professor at Wichita State University says there is no perfect answer to problems of children amid family turmoil. He says emotional bonds between parent and child, the active affectionate reciprocal social and emotional relationships that can emerge are important factors in terms of foster care and adoption. And he believes careless movement of vulnerable children among primary caregivers, sometimes known as attachment disruption, threatened to break bonds and leave lifelong consequences.
So the brain develops organizes and reflection to the developmental experience organizing and response to the pattern, intensity and the nature of sensory professional experience. What all of that means is, is that this attachment process is being created by neurons that are connecting together in certain patterns, and that these patterns are lifelong. So not to overstate the case. But a lot of these decisions you are making are going to determine how this this brain is going to knit itself together and what what perceptions, what possibilities are available to this child and then to future generations as well. So the human brain allows us to absorb the accumulated knowledge of 1000s of previous generations into a single lifetime. If that weren't true, there'd be no point for grade school, high school colleges, books, we are able to transmit information from one generation to to another. So the quality of the of the learning of the children that we are working with becomes critically important because that's information that they will either knowingly or unknowingly transmit to their own children and others so any child who is able to form and ongoing attachment with an adult is going to to be much better off attachment is the single most defining milestone in human social development. attachment will predict many things in our lives. It predicts success on the job it predicts successful relationships with other people it predicts criminal behavior.
Okay, that's a glimpse of the lawyer and academic pieces of the puzzle. Now for the foster parents, the adults who volunteer for some of the child care, world's toughest assignments. The pastor of a Lawrence church Deacon Godsey shared with lawmakers his family's acts Parents providing foster care to a seven year old, nonverbal, autistic child who had largely fallen through the cracks of the state's safety network. The challenge of providing in home care for a child he referred to as J. and securing essential services for someone with exceptional behavioral problems proved overwhelming. The girl arrived in the godsakes home in March 2020. Justice a COVID-19 pandemic took root in Kansas.
Now clearly, a global pandemic made everyone's life more difficult on almost every conceivable level. And this was painfully true for first time participants in the Kansas foster care system. To say nothing of those providing care for a child who through no fault of her own, required one on one or two on one care at every waking moment, and who desperately needed a wide variety of professional services, she never had access to much less the chance to utilize. To make matters even more challenging the caseworkers we interacted with, had never fully navigated a case for a child with the breadth and depth of evaluative and palliative care required. At one point it became clear that some of them despite good hearts and right motives, were not familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act or how it related to Jay's rights or care. Thus began a multi year odyssey navigating a labyrinth of acronyms and agencies, all of which were absolutely necessary to help Jays behavioral and intellectual development.
After two and a half years in foster care, Jay has been deemed qualified for residency at Parsons State Hospital Godsey says institutionalization was never the goal. Reality in this case, doesn't mirror aspiration.
You see, despite a variety of medical interventions, ongoing ABA therapy, and incredibly supportive school environment and all the love we had we simply weren't equipped or trained to provide the kind of constant hands on care required for Jays level of unpredictable aggression. During her time with us, Jay use the back of her head to put roughly 75 holes in our drywall, smash a hole into the tile wall of our shower and shatter a backdoor car window. She also regularly headbutted US and other caretakers along with hitting kicking, hair pulling and her own daily self harm from hand head banging on every conceivable surface. The question is, was this result for Jays Long Term Care inevitable, in light of being so far behind the curve from early on and her development, possibly, but it is also possible that had she been screened at the proper age, the necessary Community Services been made available early in her development, or at the very least during her stay in the foster care system, and had the necessary funding been made available to staff administer and access such services, Jay's case and so many others like hers, could have taken a much different path.
Now for a second look at foster care parenting in Kansas, and this one comes with a confounding twist. Blake and Megan Briscoe had fostered four children for agreeing to care for a newborn they picked up at a hospital. The child stayed with him for three years. During that time, they worked with the mother, the biological mother to regain balance in her life, but her parenting rights were eventually suffered. The father promptly abandoned the child while completing probation for a series of felony crimes. The foster care agency involved in this case recommended the father's rights be terminated too.
We have always done foster care to be a bridge and reintegration has always been our focus. Unfortunately, the mother was not able to get healthy. Her rights were terminated after 20 months. During this time, the biological father had actively and proactively abandoned our foster daughter,
the Briscoes initiated but were excluded from a meeting of foster care insiders to determine next steps. They were blindsided by the outcome of that closed door meeting.
Ultimately we tried to set up a visit to get everybody on track and have a measurable plan to to figure out where this was going to go to, to either make heads or tails of of what her permanence was going to be. cornerstones of care continually continuously recommended that the termination was the right path DCF in kind of a closed door visit that we had set up and requested that everybody get on the same table we were left out of that visit decided to tell cornerstones of care that they needed to switch their recommendation from termination to reintegration. And then When we followed up with DCF, they told us that they supported cornerstones of care recommendation for reintegration to the Father. And that was always puzzling to me, because why wouldn't they agree with that they forced cornerstones of care to change the recommendation. So immediately in a 35 day period, a rapid integration plan was developed for this child who had only done supervised visits for no more than two hours. I had asked the caseworker, how do you build a plan to integrate somebody who doesn't know this family? And she said, Well, I've asked my supervisors, I don't know we've never done a plan like this before. So in a 35 day period, to see a soul of a three year old be broken is something that I don't, I don't wish on anyone.
Blake Briscoe says the child was transferred to care of her biological father 19 months ago, and he urged the legislature join adopt a statute prohibiting a parent proven to have abandoned a child to forfeit the right to raise that child. The state's foster care contractors including St. Francis ministries have worked to deal with Kansas elevated number of children in foster care and the industry's tendency to have high turnover among staff. In addition, St. Francis ministries vice president for foster homes, Matt Stevens was asked about employee morale after two former administrators were indicted by federal prosecutors for allegedly stealing millions of dollars. Stephen says the rate at which children are moved among St. Francis ministries foster care providers in its 66 county region is in some cases, twice as high as the target level,
we need to continue to look at and evaluate to understand who is bouncing and experiencing placement instability and and national research would indicate the older youth have elevated risk of placement instability. And the Kansas data mirrors that really what we're seeing is older youth ages 13 to 18, that have higher level of disability and more needs or higher acuity. They're experiencing a lot of placement instability,
Stephen says St. Francis ministries, which covers a territory that includes most of western Kansas and Sedgwick County, experienced 41% turnover among staff in the past year.
It's widely known social work staff. And so folks in child welfare have a high turnover rate, some national data that we've recently seen through the National Association of Social Workers anywhere between 20 and 50%. We are in that at the high range of 41%. You'll see a graph there that kind of talks about where we're at kind of month after month, and what we're going to do to continue to work on it, obviously we've adjusted some compensation. We've re implemented a tuition reimbursement program, we've increased available for one contributions and continue to assess wages to remain competitive in the current workforce market.
And in response to a question Stephen said, employee morale hadn't suffered catastrophically due to the indictments.
So I would say it's a mixed bag. There's there's a couple of things that are happening, right. So when you look back at the former employees that have allegedly or that have been indicted, that's been two years ago, from when they left our employment at St. Francis ministries. And so it's it's been a long journey to get where we're at today. And I think a lot of people feel validated that kind of of what they saw at the time. And I think ultimately, a lot of the folks are, again, we appreciate the diligence exhibited by the pursuit of justice kind of was one of our statements, and it really is, like generally people are, I don't think morale really is taken a hit by the recent news.
At the conclusion of these legislative hearings, the bipartisan House and Senate committee compiled a list of recommendations for the 2023 legislature, Representative Susan Humphreys of Wichita Republican with two adopted children, so the legislature ought to pass a foster parent Bill of Rights to clarify how individuals should be treated by state agencies and contractors. In addition, Humphries recommended the legislature incorporated into state law, the position of child advocate established through executive order by Democratic governor Laura Kelly. Humphrey said the child advocate could be supervised by the legislature or the Attorney General's office,
we've continued to hear that families are afraid of retaliation, and I don't think as much as I appreciate the person who's in the office of the child advocate, I don't really feel like it is truly independent. When the governor is appointing the same person, as the Secretary of DCF. And as the Office of the child advocate, it's not truly independent.
Meanwhile, Senator Foust good Oh, so the CASA program deployed an insufficient number of black people to serve children of color in the foster care system
at No disrespect to anybody but the Corsa issue. You know, don't lay it on me. I mean, I've been talking about for 18 years to be more inclusive, too. We talk about diversity and we show the fans and all of that. But every year I go home and it's still the same, the same representation. I hear the same things from my constituents. If we talk about the lack of African Americans who are foster parents or who want to be causes, I know a host of them who are applying have the status, but they're not included.
Over these back to back days at the Capitol, the degree of difficulty in terms of enhancing foster care in Kansas was laid bare. Now it's up to Governor Laura Kelly and the 165 members of the Kansas legislature to decisively address needs of some of the state's most vulnerable children. I'm Tim carpenter. Thanks for listening to the Kansas reflector.