Kansas Foster System Settlement Progress Report Shows Continued Failure to Meet State’s Commitments 

For press inquiries: Kenzie Borland, kborland@kansasappleseed.org; Willis Jacobson, wjacobson@youthlaw.org; Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.org

(Kansas City, KS) — Today, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) released its second annual report reviewing the State of Kansas’ progress towards achieving its commitments under the McIntyre v. Howard Settlement Agreement. CSSP, the independent organization tasked with reviewing and assessing the State’s performance, found that in 2022 the State and its contractors failed to make required improvements to Kansas’ foster care system. In fact, the State backslid from its 2021 performance in several areas.

The Settlement Agreement is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in November 2018 against officials in the Departments for Children and Families (DCF), Health and Environment (KDHE) and Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) on behalf of foster children experiencing extreme placement instability and inadequate access to mental health resources. It requires structural changes to significantly improve stability and supports for Kansan children in foster care, including ending one-night placements and the practice of housing children in offices and other inappropriate settings. The plaintiffs’ legal team consists of Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Kansas City attorney and Child Welfare Law Specialist Lori Burns-Bucklew, the National Center for Youth Law, and Children’s Rights. 

“There is no question that this administration inherited a broken, under-resourced foster system – and reform takes time. But, the Kansas Legislature, Governor, and DCF all need to act with a greater sense of urgency.  Foster children – especially those who are stuck in offices and night-to-night placements for extended periods – are losing their childhoods to this system. There must be greater accountability for the private contractors, more funding for community-based mental health services, and more robust support for families so that children can stay safely at home,” said Leecia Welch, Deputy Legal Director, Children’s Rights. 

The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s report makes clear that Kansas is off track in meeting its commitments. Key findings include: 

“It is hard to understand how the State of Kansas can continue to be so negligent in its provision of mental health services to these youth who are in the foster system,” said Lori Burns-Bucklew, Attorney and Child Welfare Law Specialist. “Kansas is a poor parent indeed for these young folks who are struggling after having been removed from their homes and families.”

The report explains that “to achieve the promise of the Settlement Agreement for children, youth and families in Kansas, DCF will need to continue its efforts to thoughtfully examine why office placements continue to rise, why placement moves generally are trending in the wrong direction, and why too many children/youth do not have access to screenings and services to meet their mental and behavioral health needs.” Addressing Kansas’ placement stability challenges “is vital, as changes in living arrangements, schools, and social networks can exacerbate the initial trauma children and youth experience after being removed from their homes” (p. 11, 15).

“This report highlights the critical need for Kansas to fast-track the development and implementation of a modern, integrated data system. Without reliable and consistent data tracking, DCF can’t evaluate whether its initiatives are working and can’t hold its private contractors accountable for serving children and their families across the state,” said Freya Pitts, Senior Attorney, National Center for Youth Law. 

“DCF must hold its contractors accountable for meeting the commitments of the settlement agreement, and provide vigorous oversight of their care of Kansas children in the foster system, or we will not see improvement in the system,”  said Teresa Woody, Kansas Appleseed Litigation Director. 

To read the full report, click here.

More details about McIntyre v. Howard found here.

About Kansas Appleseed: is a statewide organization that believes Kansans, working together, can build a state full of thriving, inclusive, and just communities. Kansas Appleseed conducts policy research and analysis and works with communities and partners to understand the root causes of problems and advocate for comprehensive solutions. For more information, please visit www.kansasappleseed.org.

About Lori Burns-Bucklew: Lori Burns-Bucklew is a Kansas City attorney in private practice. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and began practice in 1984. An accredited Child Welfare Law Specialist, she has represented children and youth; as well as parents, grandparents, and other caregivers for children whose families are subjected to state intervention. She has served as class counsel in several civil rights class action matters on behalf of children in state care. She has trained hundreds of lawyers in the Kansas City Metropolitan region regarding child welfare law and children’s issues.
The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transform our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

About Children’s Rights: Children’s Rights is a national advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of children living in or impacted by America’s child welfare, immigration, juvenile legal, education, and healthcare systems. We use civil rights impact litigation, advocacy and policy expertise, and public education to hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Our work centers on creating lasting systemic change that will advance the rights of children for generations.