Testimony of TC Mosier
United Foster Families for Children
SRS Oversight Transition Committee
Topeka, Kansas -- November 4, 1997
In preparation for today's testimony, I have talked with numerous Licensed Foster Families. Child Placing Agencies, Social Workers, Therapists, and Attorneys about their perception of Privatization and its present mode. We agreed that the Kansas Foster Care System has been broken, yet not enough information was gathered, nor planning was taken when Privatization was put into motion. The information and planning excluded major figures, thus creating the confusion and isolation from these same figure heads, including the most important figure, which are the FOSTER PARENTS.
Needs and Concerns expressed fell into six primary categories: (1) Re-Assessing. Re-diagnosing children in foster care (2) Mental Heath Services; (3) Appropriate Reimbursement Rates; (4) Not receiving Case Management Services; (5) Transporting Children; (6)Retaliation, Deprivation, and Humiliation on Foster Parents.
1. Re-Assessing, Re-Diagnosing Children in Foster Care
Although the lead agencies has proposed that an Assessment would be completed on each child in foster care to determine the most appropriate placement, the child's past history and information is not being gathered from professionals by the contracting agency's Case Management Team. Physicians, Counselors, School personnel, GAL, Attorneys, and Foster Parents; these people who have long term direct contact with the children are not being included. A Foster Parent was distraught with the contracting agency when their staff re-assessed the child, and final determination was set into motion. Determining that he "just had a conduct disorder," they were going to take him off all medication, and return him home with his mother. This same child had been labeled schizophrenic by three different physicians, his mother could not handle his behavior, and he was also suicidal. The "professionals" involved in the assessment with each child fail to have the needed information and skills to help, therefore they add to the child's pain. Some of the social workers are asked to carry a enormous case load, including various counties. Social workers in the past have carried case loads of about 38; even extremely capable and dedicated workers can provide no more than space attention to children and families with case loads like that. One foster parent was quite direct, saying, "The workers through the contracting agency have no idea what they are doing... they don't even know their own children in their case load."
2. Mental Health Services
The leading Contracting Agency from one region had planned to provide this service themselves, however, it has not happened. In most cases the contracting agency refuses to consider the counseling that has been court ordered, or recommended by the child's primary physician, and its either limited or terminated. Some Judges have begun to Court Order for these Services, still they continue to fight with the provider on costs, and not following through with the services for the children. One Kansas foster parent said, "it has been most difficult to believe in the Contracting Agency when they tell me that the children are their primary concern, when they deny the children any services." Most often, the children are being forced to change counselors, and therapists for the sole purpose of saving money. The most horrifying aspect of the Mental Health is the contracting agency is allowing some workers to do the "counseling," when in fact these case managers are not trained, nor have a degree in this field. In one particular case, a sibling group had been denied counseling since January 12, 1997, when the contracting agency had refused to pay for the services. In August 1997, seven months later, the contracting agency was found in contempt and was ordered to allow the children's primary mental health agency to continue therapy; counseling was again resumed, by this time the case had been effected and only added to the children's misfortune. The lack of mental health, (along with visits) set the case back a year. The children are in jeopardy of being returned home to a sever neglectful, drugs/alcohol, and domestic violence, environment due to this change. A State Representative was right when he said; " ...because the changes are just now being implemented, it will be sometime before we really have any evidence of the effects on the lives of children in foster care." We are seeing the evidence right now!
3. APPROPRIATE REIMBURSEMENT for the care of the child.
So much emphasis is on Caring for the foster child, yet the reimbursement to the foster parents have been decreased to them as well. These "cuts" effect the children with the greatest of needs, and working foster parents have to pay from their own pockets, for services such as Daycare, Mileage to and from counseling, school meetings, administrative reviews, long distance telephone calls, court, and visits with the child's parents. Foster parent will be spending their own money to subsidize a program to which the donate so many hours as it is. One foster family spends $19.40 daily for their child in a day care facility while she is at work. Her reimbursement is $14.00 a day from the contracting agency, she presently has three foster children in daycare. Neither agency is willing to compensate adequately for caring of the foster children in foster care. Foster Families do not stand alone. Numerous agencies have been forced to discontinue services due to the decreases in funding. We often hear the lead agencies are interested in "saving money," and making foster care as "efficient" as possible. Foster Families ask on whose' expense are they saving money? Or Making Money?
A professional in the field of foster care puts it this way, "I find it most difficult to understand or to think an agency will use children's issue as a commodity, and the money issued to support children in care, should never be used for personal or professional financial gain. They should be used as intended, for reimbursement for expenses for the child." One contracting agency was hiring numerous professionals and offering them higher salaries, while cutting payments to foster parents. The question then is asked; "How much of the contracting agency's budget goes towards staff/salaries (per cent) compared to payments to foster parents and programs?"
4. NOT RECEIVING CASE MANAGEMENT SERVICES
There seems to be chaos and confusion over the different types of case management services being used by the different contractors; various "roles" are quite visible with the contractor's staff; Homemakers, Support workers, Aids, Case Managers, Social Workers, Educational Lesions/Advocate, Primary Social Worker for the children, and Primary Social worker for the family. This number is not counting the transportation team. Foster families and the foster children have a tendency to "get lost" in this situation. Each of these "workers" do not have the adequate information that is needed, therefore the services is not provided to the children, and the foster family is left with a void, and thus the confusion gets worse. A foster family in central Kansas has two siblings, the children have been assigned 11 workers since February 1997. Two of the contractors are not explaining their case management services to the foster parents, and is evident that these same contractors have become territorial. The foster parents do no seem to know how to access it, and when they ask questions, they treat the system like it was a big secret. Providing foster families with support and training should be one of the agency's plan, and foster parents seek workers that will support the family while the child is in the home. One foster care leaders puts it another way: "FOSTER CARE PROVIDERS ARE THE BACKBONE OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM. WITHOUT THEM, WE WOULD HAVE A DISASTER."
There is a high turnover of workers, this is extremely true with one contractor. New workers are assigned every couple of week, these workers are inexperienced don't seem to know what they are doing, they are not familiar with the foster families nor the foster children. Foster parents have trouble contacting them, the offices are closed, and most difficult, they don't return our calls.
5. TRANSPORTING CHILDREN.
Under the old system, Transportation was part of the agency's responsibility, under Privatization foster parents have been told this responsibility was now theirs. Foster parents have to struggle with workers to follow through with transportation for the children, and often time after confirming for the services, there is a delay, change of drivers, and the drivers have no information about the children, and foster parents, thus creating a void. So as not to struggle with this issue, foster parents again, are forced to take up the slack.
6. RETALIATION, DEPRIVATION AND HUMILIATION.
Foster Families have been ridiculed by the contracting agency and its workers. One foster parent was quite direct saying, "the workers seem to forget who knows the children better than anyone else, and when I attempt to share information, recommend, or add lip, I am told to let the professionals do their job." The contracting agency and its staff seem to forget that as foster parents, we have the children daily, weekly, and most often for a long length of stay; they deny the fact that foster care is a significant piece of the puzzle, and when the piece is ignored, decisions are made that can jeopardize the future of the child, thus the children suffer. Foster parents have been told to "stay within their boundaries," yet decisions that have been occurring have definitely had a negative effect on the foster children. One contracting agency have told the foster families, "it is not of your business," when they make recommendations. Foster families have been threatened, lied to, put down, and treated as if our concerns were nothing. Two of the contracting agencies have treated the foster parents as numbers and service delivery components, rather than human beings.
The foster families continue harassment and isolation from any decision, we feel, due to our hesitance in changing our license to the contracting agencies. Two of the contracting agencies manipulate the foster families by using the children currently in their homes as pawns, and in the end, the children are then removed from the home, without considering the devastation to the child. A foster parent of 66 years of age, and who had provided foster care through SRS for a long length of time said; "the worker through the contracting agency in our region told me that if I continue to protest about the child in our home, the child would be immediately removed from our home." In Sept. 26, 1997, a child from their home was taken for a visit, was due to return on Sept. 29, 1997, the foster family received a phone call from the worker that morning, and was told that the child would not be returning. Did the contracting agency not know about the Kansas Code for the Care of Children, K.S.A. 38-1566? This disruption to the child, and retaliation to the foster parents only served as "warning" to other foster parents who questioned the contracting agency.
UNITED FOSTER FAMILIES FOR CHILDREN
Currently, approximately 4,789 Kansas children live in a foster home. These are people who care for children until permanent homes are found for them. Individual states pay a small amount for foster services, but most foster parents perform this function out of care and concern for children who need homes. These are people who themselves are parenting their own children; parents who are from various backgrounds similar to those of a Social Worker, Police Officer, Attorney, Congressman, Clerks, Teachers, and all forms of a professional. A foster parent have numerous titles, wearing different hats to accommodate the present need or crisis. These foster parents have opened their home to a child who has been removed from their biological home, and who perform these duties above and beyond the call of duty. The children who are placed in a foster home are from various backgrounds, and most likely have "excess baggage," with their unique set of circumstances that will require special attention. Children who have been abused, neglected, and discarded, need foster parents who will love them and accept them for themselves, and work with each child to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together again. When dealing with the everyday behavior issues, school issues, birth family connections, and emotional roller-coaster of the child is exhausting physically, as well emotionally for foster parents.
Each foster family is required to attend various training; MAPP, physical abuse, sexual abuse. emotional abuse and neglect, for licensing requirements. A KBI Child Registry check, personal and character references, and oftentimes a psychological assessment is required from some child placing agencies. Monthly training and paperwork is also part of the requirements as well as court appearance, administrative review, school support, medical, but most important be willing to participate in the counseling sessions with the foster children. The foster family's home is then inspected to determine accommodations for number of foster children placed in the home, and so it continues year after year.
Kansas Foster Parents have always been for a "better system" for their foster children. Privatization we felt was the answer. Foster Families embraced the change, and were willing to work with the contracting agencies to bring about the best Foster care in the State of Kansas. From the beginning, the contracting agency began to demand changes with foster families that we felt were unrealistic. The choice of licensing agency was taken away from foster parents, the foster families were told that a refusal to change would result "with no new children being placed in the home." Our main concern were the children currently in the home. The contracting agencies would then complete an assessment to determine the "most appropriate placement" for the children. Many of these children have been in the foster home longer than six months and by this time the child and family have formed an attachment.
It was then that United Foster Families For Children was born. UFFFC primary concern were the Foster Children in Kansas. Visiting with foster families, and listening to their concerns, it became necessary to advocate for the foster children well as the foster families. UFFFC became the voice for the foster families, and we took their concerns when meeting with the contracting agencies CEO/Presidents, as well as Kansas Commissioner of Children and Family, Teresa Markowitz. They continued to encourage foster families to take their concerns to them, we were elated. For the most part UFFFC felt that someone indeed was listening to the numerous concerns, and would encourage the contracting agencies to work with foster families. We were at their beckon call. This was especially true, when Kansas Commissioner Markowitz also felt that our concerns were valid.
Within time, we felt the concerns were increasing, and there were no signs of change nor compromise. On the contrary, the foster families were then being made victims, along with their foster children. It became quite obvious that the contracting agencies refused to work with the foster families, as well as other foster care agencies. We continued to meet with professionals from the same field, only to confirm the same fears as the foster families. Upon the third meeting with Commissioner Markowitz, requesting her assistance with the numerous concerns, especially the lack of Mental Health for the foster children (explaining that this particular service was often court ordered), she responded by saying, "The Judges and Courts can order anything they want, but that doesn't mean we have to follow them." We were in shock to say the least. If the Kansas Commissioner of Children and Families had this attitude about our foster children, it was no wonder the Contracting Agencies have become deaf to our concerns as well.
United Foster Families for Children have been actively providing some stability to this thing call Privatization. Numerous issues and concerns have been avoided, and a lot of anxieties have been created. Kansas Foster Families have always had a "Partnership" with SRS, we regret that is no longer true under the new system. The contracting agencies have become to powerful and proud, thus continuing to eliminate everyone, including foster families who are the caring backbone of the family foster care system.
See also Cover letter accompanying this testimony