Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday praised the work of lawmakers who made child welfare reform a priority this session and produced legislation to unlock federal funds for prevention services.
Kelly announced she had signed the legislation, which will allow the Kansas Department for Children and Families to inject millions of dollars into evidence-based programs that develop parenting skills or treat mental illness or substance abuse.
Kelly sought legislative approval for participation in the federal Families First Prevention Services Act as part of her administration's goal of ending years of DCF failures.
"Nothing has frustrated me more than the mismanagement of this agency and the callous disregard the previous administration demonstrated toward our most vulnerable children and families," Kelly said.
DCF secretary Laura Howard said when the agency becomes aware that a child is at risk of going into state custody, Families First will allow the state to connect parents with community partners across the state.
If a mother needs help, for instance, the agency could refer her to a local Parents as Teachers program, a nonprofit that promotes early development learning by supporting and engaging parents as caregivers.
"What Families First really does is allows the state to claim federal child welfare dollars at the front end," Howard said. "Before we've only been able to claim those once the child is actually in foster care, so this opens up a whole new array of services."
The services must comply with a federal clearing list that is still in progress. The legislation allows the state to begin using federal funds in October, and Howard said DCF will post requests for proposals in the next few months.
Howard said the agency has been reaching out to communities around the state and fielding requests for information about the program.
"I would say it will be a combination of existing and new programs," Howard said, "but certainly a new opportunity for us as an agency that's really been an intervention agency to really be able to link families at the front end to more preventative services."
To further bolster DCF services, lawmakers have set aside funding to add 42 qualified clinical social workers. They will finalize an appropriations package when they return in May.
Kelly said the most important thing the Legislature can do to assist with social welfare reform is provide those additional employees.
"We need them to keep kids out of the system, and then we need them to help us reintegrate them once they are in the system," Kelly said.
The governor also announced she had signed a bill that allows financial lenders to claim a tax credit through the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship, which promotes small business development. The legislation also increases the amount a taxpayer can claim from $50,000 to $100,000.