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Performance Matters: How KVC Kansas Is Doing on Federal Foster Care Standards

foster care standards

Child welfare systems, which include foster care, are designed to ensure children are safe from abuse and neglect, grow up in a permanent family and experience wellbeing.

Since safety, permanency and wellbeing are the three primary goals of any child welfare system, we want to share how KVC Kansas as a nonprofit, private provider of child welfare services is performing on these federal performance standards.

KVC Kansas is the only private organization in the U.S. that has been a foster care case management provider continuously for the last 25 years. As we have filled gaps in services such as creating children’s psychiatric treatment options and solved problems like right-sizing residential care of children, we’ve built one of the nation’s broadest continuums of care. We now share our expertise with child welfare agencies in 7 countries and 14 U.S. states. Children and families deserve the highest quality support, and our team of child welfare professionals work tirelessly each day to provide it.

That said, the last decade has been challenging within Kansas child welfare and mental health, as we have shared here. The number of children in foster care grew by 50%, or 2,500 children, in just a few years, overwhelming the system’s limited capacity. Thanks to new leadership and reinstated funding, the system has made enormous progress in the last three years.

Here’s a summary of what the federal outcome measures are, where we’re exceeding goals, and where we are focusing our attention to strengthen results.

Introducing the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR)

How do you know if a state’s foster care system – or, more broadly, its child welfare system – is any good? How can you be sure that it’s keeping vulnerable children and families safe and working the way it’s intended to, such as safely reunifying families or helping children to be adopted?

The answer is the federal Child and Family Services Review, often abbreviated to CFSRs. These are massive studies that are conducted of all state foster care systems by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, specifically the Children’s Bureau.

The Child and Family Services Reviews enable the Children’s Bureau to: (1) ensure conformity with federal child welfare requirements; (2) determine what is actually happening to children and families as they are engaged in child welfare services; and (3) assist states in enhancing their capacity to help children and families achieve positive outcomes.

The reviews are structured to help states identify strengths and areas needing improvement within their agencies and programs. Ultimately, the goal of the reviews is to help states improve child welfare services and achieve seven key outcomes for families and children who receive services:

Safety

  • Children are, first and foremost, protected from abuse and neglect.
  • Children are safely maintained in their homes whenever possible and appropriate.

Permanency

  • Children have permanency and stability in their living situations.
  • The continuity of family relationships and connections is preserved for families.

Family and Child Well-Being

  • Families have enhanced capacity to provide for their children’s needs.
  • Children receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs.
  • Children receive adequate services to meet their physical and mental health needs.

So far there have been three rounds of CFSRs. Since there are 50 states and thousands of data points, each CFSR takes several years. Rounds 1 and 2 took place 2001-2010. Round 3 took place 2015-2018. Robust reports are available on the Children’s Bureau website here.

When states achieve federal outcomes, communities can feel confident that children and families are being served well. But when a state fails to achieve certain outcomes, it puts a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in place to show how the state will improve its results.

Understanding Kansas Data Broadly

As you may know, the Kansas child welfare system is unique. In 1996, the state moved to a public-private partnership model to improve service delivery to children and families, bring innovation, and build community awareness and support. Due to this, KVC had the opportunity to help make the state of Kansas a national child welfare leader.

In 2021, here’s who the nonprofit child welfare providers are:

  • Foster Care Case Management Providers – The case management providers are responsible for children who enter foster care in a given county. KVC Kansas is the state’s case management provider in Area 6 (Kansas City/Lawrence area) and Area 3 (Topeka area and north). The other providers are TFI Family Services, Saint Francis Ministries and Cornerstones of Care.
  • Foster/Adoptive Family Support – Responsibility for recruiting and supporting foster families is handled differently than case management. There’s not just one provider in each county; instead, there are many nonprofits recruit and support people to become licensed foster or adoptive parents to children in need. KVC Kansas is thankful for the opportunity to support nearly 900 relative/foster families, making KVC the largest child placing agency (CPA). Learn more about becoming a Kansas foster parent here.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families reports on statewide performance on its website here. The agency also provides detailed reports that breakout the different providers’ catchment areas.

It’s important to remember that the child welfare system is indeed a complex system, and changes in policy, funding or operations have a ripple effect throughout. While the Kansas Department for Children and Families is ultimately the owner of system performance, some other key influencers of system performance are the courts, law enforcement, and the legislature.

Once a nonprofit because a case management provider, they become responsible for their performance in their service areas. There are also external factors that can affect performance such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Let’s Look at KVC Kansas’ Performance

With that context in mind, we are now ready to share our organization’s current performance compared to federal standards.

What we are sharing here is for Fiscal Year 2021 to date and is specific to Area 6 (Johnson & Douglas counties) and Area 3 (Shawnee & northern counties).

 Safety: Children are, first and foremost, protected from abuse and neglect.

KVC is exceeding this outcome. This means we are keeping children safe while they are in foster care. The federal standard is for fewer than 8.50 victimizations per 100,000 days in care. A lower score is better. KVC’s performance is at 4.45 in Area 6 (East), and 1.18 in Area 3 (KC).

 Family-Like Settings: Children in out-of-home care are placed in family-like settings.

It’s important that the majority of children in foster care live with relatives or foster families. Children grow best in families rather than institutional settings like group homes. In general, residential care should only be used when a youth has needs that require a higher level of mental or behavioral health treatment.

KVC Kansas is exceeding the state standard of at least 90% of children living in family-like settings. We’re at 94.5% of children in family-like settings in Area 3, and 93.0% of children in Area 6. We provide training to child welfare agencies around the world on this topic: right-sizing congregate care of children.

Relatives: Children will live with relatives or non-related kin while in foster care.

Where would you want your own child to live if he or she needed foster care? Most of us would choose a relative such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or another family friend who already knows the child like a neighbor or coach. When safely possible, kinship care can lead to increased stability and improved mental health and wellbeing for children in foster care.

The state revised the performance standard from 29% of children living with relatives, to 50% of children living with either relatives or non-related kin. We’re exceeding the state 29% standard and are incredibly close to meeting the target of 50% of children living with relatives or non-related kin. Between our two catchment areas, KVC Kansas is placing 49.6% of children in kinship care settings. We have invested a great deal into kinship care practices and leadership in recent years and expect to pass the 50% goal within the next few months. In fact, our internal goal is higher; we want at least 60% of children living with relatives.

🟡 Siblings: Children will live with siblings while in foster care.

Another goal is to place 78% or more of children with at least one sibling while in out-of-home care. It’s important to keep life-long brother and sister relationships intact. KVC Kansas is exceeding this standard in Area 6, keeping 82.8% of siblings together. In Area 3, we are very close to the goal, keeping 77.7% of siblings together while in foster care.

Placement Stability: The rate of moves per 1,000 days in care will be fewer than 4.4.

It’s critically important that children in foster care stay stable in a caregiver’s home, rather than moving often. Unfortunately, the entire state has struggled in this area due to the 50% increase of children in foster care in the last decade, but improvement is happening quickly.

The federal standard is for children to experience no more than 4.4 moves per 1,000 days in care. DCF recently shared that the number of placement moves experienced by Kansas children in foster care dropped from an average of 10.1 moves per 1,000 days in care to an average of 5.2 moves per 1,000 days in care (from Jul. 2019 to Dec. 2020). Kansas has made significant strides to return to expected placement stability outcomes over the last 18 months.

In Area 3, children served by KVC are averaging 5.51 moves per 1,000 days in care, and in area 6, they’re averaging 6.82 moves per 1,000 days in care. Increasing placement stability is a top priority that receives attention from our team members every single day.

🟡 Timely Permanency: Children in foster care will be discharged to a permanent home within 12 months.

There are several different federal measures for timely permanency. The goal is to help children be safely reunified with their birth families or adopted in a timely manner.

KVC Kansas is not meeting the short-term timely permanency standards, such as children being discharged to a permanent home within 12 months. But KVC Kansas is exceeding the federal standards for timely permanency for children who have been in foster care 24 months or longer.

One of the primary barriers we are experiencing in this area is overcoming substance use in drug-affected families. When parental substance use is a major reason for a child’s need for temporary foster care, it becomes more likely that the road to permanency will take a bit longer based on the ups and downs of recovery. Furthermore, many areas of the state lack adequate substance use treatment programs. KVC Kansas continues to work on ways to address this barrier so all children can experience timely permanency.

🟡 Reentries: Children who are discharged from foster care will not reenter in the following 12 months.

Historically, KVC Kansas had one of the nation’s lowest foster care reentry rates. During the challenges of the last decade, we have sadly seen reentries increase a bit. The federal standard is for no more than 8.3% of children to reenter foster care.

In Area 3, we are slightly above the federal standard with 8.6% of children reentering.

Educational Progression:

It’s critical that all children have the opportunity and support to advance grade levels each year and graduate high school. This contributes to life-long health and wellbeing.

Statewide, 88.3% of children in the general population graduated high school in 2019-20. By contrast, just 60.8% of students in foster care graduated high school the same year. This discrepancy must be addressed. As stated on other performance measures, the 50% influx of children in foster care and subsequent placement instability contributed to declines in educational performance.

Many leaders across the state are focused on improving educational outcomes for children in foster care, and the newly created Foster Care Report Card is one important tool for monitoring progress.