GOP legislators block audit of Kansas foster care system
Topeka Republican legislators on Wednesday blocked a state audit of Kansas' foster care system even though several acknowledged that they have ongoing concerns about how well it protects abused and neglected children.
GOP members of a legislative committee that oversees the work of state auditors were skeptical that the review proposed by two Democratic lawmakers would provide useful information. They also noted that the state Department for Children and Families is reviewing foster care policies, and legislative leaders have appointed a committee to study related issues this summer and fall.
The committee voted 5-4 against initiating the audit, with all of the no votes coming from Republicans.
"There is a lot of activity right now in the foster care area," said Republican Sen. Julia Lynn, of Olathe.
Democratic Reps. Ed Trimmer, of Winfield, and Jim Ward, of Wichita, requested that auditors examine whether the department's procedures adequately protect abused and neglected children, both when they are removed from troubled homes and when they are reunited with their families. They also sought to examine whether contractors hired by the department have the resources to provide adequate services.
Trimmer and Ward had hoped auditors would start their investigation immediately, so that a report would be ready when the full Legislature reconvenes in January. Their audit proposal cited the deaths of children from troubled homes in El Dorado, Hiawatha and Wellington between March 2012 and December 2014.
"If we wait any longer, we take the risk of losing another child," said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat and audit committee member.
Republican Rep. John Barker, of Abilene, the audit committee's chairman, said he's believed for 25 years that the state doesn't have enough good foster homes, particularly in rural areas. Lynn said she's repeatedly worked with constituents aggrieved by judges' decisions about removing children from homes, and GOP Rep. Peggy Mast, of Emporia, said she worries about children being moved repeatedly among foster homes.
Records available online show that the state also has conducted 21 audits of its foster care system in the past 20 years, though the last one was three years ago. Mast said the review sought by Democrats would be "a lesson in futility."
"I don't what the answer is, but I don't think this is going to reveal anything that's going to be substantive enough," Mast said.
The Department for Children and Families began its review of foster care policies after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback this month transferred the licensing of foster homes to it from the Department of Health and Environment. DCF already had already administered placements and services for foster children through two private contractors.