TOPEKA, Kan. — Lawmakers and advocates are raising concerns that Kansas foster children are suffering from a sharp reduction in youth psychiatric residential treatment facilities and shorter stays in them.

The number of such facilities dropped from 17 to eight between 2011 and this past August, while the available beds shrank 65 percent from 780 to 272, according to data provided Tuesday to an oversight panel at the Statehouse.

Officials from Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Health Systems, the private companies that run foster care in Kansas, said losing psychiatric facilities can put a strain on kids, families and the child welfare system, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports. The contractors said waits for admission ranged from two weeks to more than a month, depending on the child’s sex and level of need.

“When you don’t have the right care at the right time, it may ripple out through the system, so foster parents feel the strain,” said Rachel Marsh, executive director of public policy for Saint Francis.

Cheryl Rathbun, chief clinical officer at Saint Francis, said there was an overcapacity of beds in 2011, so some providers naturally left the system. Rathbun said providers were then hit hard by a 4 percent cut by the Legislature to reimbursements they got from Medicaid last year, and some struggled to stay in business. Medicaid pays for foster children’s medical care. The funds were restored earlier this year.

Rathbun said another problem is that children are staying in facilities for fewer days on average. The average stay has dropped to 45 days from 120 days in 2011, according to Saint Francis.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said those stays are determined by the private companies that administer Kansas’ Medicaid program, children’s therapists and community mental health centers based on children’s medical needs. Community mental health officials also play a role in the decision, she said.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, raised questions, saying children in foster care may have experienced severe trauma and need “months of safety, security and treatment.”

KVC told the task force last month some of its children including those in need of psychiatric care had spent nights in offices while they awaited placement in a facility or foster home. Saint Francis, too, had to keep kids in its offices while it sought placements.

“When we’ve made a determination that a child can’t be safe at home, that’s a tough sell for a foster family,” said Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com