Gov. Laura Kelly's vetting process led Friday to agreements with three nonprofits to deliver in-home support to Kansas' vulnerable families and sealed the ouster of a troubled Florida organization hired last year to do that work by the state's previous governor.
Kelly moved after taking office in January to freeze no-bid contracts for family-preservation services announced in November by Gov. Jeff Colyer, who attempted to address controversy that undermined his predecessor, Republican Sam Brownback. Problems included the Kansas Department for Children and Families' inability to account for dozens of children in foster care, policy allowing hard-to-place kids to stay overnight in contractors’ offices, the alleged shredding of documents by DCF, and the injury or death of children within the agency's grasp.
Reopening the contracting process by Kelly produced four-year deals for family intervention with DCCCA, of Lawrence, which was awarded the Wichita and Kansas City regions; TFI Family Services, of Topeka, to be responsible for the western zone; and Cornerstones of Care, of Kansas City, Mo., assigned the state's eastern quarter. The agreements take effect Jan. 1.
"I canceled previously awarded family-preservation grants because of the lack of transparency," said Kelly, a Democrat. "I am pleased to say that the Department for Children and Families, with assistance from the Department of Administration, have chosen well-qualified partners."
Eckerd Connects, of Clearwater, Fla., was selected by the Colyer administration to deliver family counseling statewide with exception of the Kansas City market controlled by Cornerstones of Care. At the time, Eckerd Connects was under scrutiny by Florida officials for failure to resolve foster-care inadequacies similar to those in Kansas.
Under the revised approach, Eckerd Connects was dropped by Kansas. Cornerstones of Care was retained by the Kelly administration, but its catchment area to deliver family preservation no longer covered Kansas City.
"I am excited that these new grantees include familiar faces and new partners," said DCF Secretary Laura Howard. "DCF looks forward to working together to reduce risk and safety concerns for children and keep Kansas families together."
Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1997 after a lawsuit exposed widespread problems that placed children in jeopardy.
The state finances delivery of family-preservation services to households with a child at risk of entering foster care. It is a voluntary program for families who welcome the counseling. The state's budget for the current fiscal year is $12 million.
DCCCA, based in Lawrence, has 12 years of experience providing family-preservation services in Kansas. It will manage services in the state's two largest metropolitan areas under an agreement extending to June 2024.
"Our ultimate goal is to strengthen families and support them to nurture their children, which helps reduce the number of children in care," said Lori Alvarado, CEO of DCCCA.
Prevention activities are separate from case management of foster-care children placed in custody of the state. All work with children in foster care in Kansas is to be directed by four providers chosen by the Colyer administration under contracts starting Oct. 1. Those organizations are Saint Francis Ministries, of Salina; KVC Kansas, Olathe; TFI Family Services; and Cornerstones of Care.
There are about 7,500 children in the state's foster care network, DCF said. The number in Kansas increased rapidly between 2011 and 2015, when the population climbed from about 5,000 to surpass 7,000. The state budgeted $242 million this fiscal year for case management, placement and non-Medicaid expenses of foster care.