"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by its example.
Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."
–Supreme Court Justice Brandeis

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fixing SRS - A KAKE News Special Report

Fixing SRS - A KAKE News Special Report

Reporter: Deb Farris
Email Address: deb.farris@kake.com


Fixing SRS - A KAKE News Special Report

Every year SRS gets 53,000 reports of Kansas children being abused or neglected. In hundreds of those cases, the kids are taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Some families and state lawmakers are questioning the motives of the foster care program and whether it can be fixed.

State lawmakers inundated with complaints about the SRS foster care system want answers. A special committee has been set up to investigate as families come forward wondering how their kids ended up in the system.

Kathy Winters brings her memories to the Kansas statehouse, pleading for help from lawmakers.

"I don't take anything for granted. I pray every day that someone will listen to us," said Winters as she walked up the steps to the Capitol building in Topeka last week.

For more than a year Winters cared for two of her grandsons, Caleb and Wyatt, after SRS removed them from their mother. Then, last year, SRS took the boys from Winters and placed them into foster care.

"It has devastated my family," she says. "It has torn us apart."

SRS claims Winters lost the boys because of poor communication, not complying with visitation requirements and problems getting them proper medical treatment. Winters, however, believes the foster care system is broken. She claims it's a system driven by greed.

"The real reason is they make more money from the children if they do have them in foster care and if they adopt them out," she said.

SRS contracts with private agencies to run the foster care system. According to SRS records, the state paid $153,000,000 in 2009 to the contractors who place kids in foster care. There is also a monthly case rate paid for each child that is in foster care.

"I'm hoping this hasn't become a money making proposition on the backs of our children," said State Senator Julia Lynn of Johnson County.

Complaints from Winters and hundreds of other families got the attention of Senator Lynn and Representative Mike Kiegerl.

"There has been some progress made, but i still see some difficulties and I still get a lot of complaints," said Kiegerl.

They head the Children's Services Committee, and they are investigating the complaints.

"I don't care what we spend, but if we are spending a lot of money and I'm asking 'What do we get for the money?' and the answer is that things are better than they used to be... That's what the secretary told us last time and that's not good enough for me," said Kiegerl.

We, too, went to SRS Secretary Don Jordan for answers. He told us the number of kids coming into foster care has dropped 14 percent since January of last year. He says his goal is to keep all kids with their families.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is that, in the foster care system, 91% of our children live in a family home, either with a relative or family resource home," said Jordan.

Jordan says the private contractors who handle foster care are subject to intense questioning before they are hired and he says they are all not-for-profit agencies.

"If they demonstrated they were only in it for the money, they wouldn't be doing the job," Jordan told us. "That's why we measure their performance."

Jordan says he's working with lawmakers on becoming better and he welcomes the investigation.

"I believe in us being as transparent as an agency and I welcome scrutiny. We don't have anything to hide," he claims.

Winters, the grandmother who lost her children, is hoping her fight is not forgotten. Her goal is to not only get her grandkids back, but to send a strong message to all the families she's fighting for.

"I will never give up," she said. "There is not one person in this world that will make me give up."

Lawmakers have already ordered a post audit report on Children Services. It's expected to be finished this summer. Already, committee hearings on foster care are scheduled for this fall. KAKE News will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest as it happens.

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