A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement that children’s attorneys say will ensure children in Kansas’ foster care system can get the mental health care they need.
“All children in foster care have the right to a stable, caring home where their mental health needs are met, and our settlement agreement finally moves Kansas in that direction,” said Leecia Welch, plaintiff co-counsel and senior director at the National Center for Youth Law. “This lawsuit is not only a win for the children in foster care now, but a win for all children who will ever enter state care in Kansas.”
There are currently about 7,000 children in foster care in Kansas.
Attorneys said in a statement that the settlement will bring “transformative, structural change to Kansas’s broken child welfare system” that has failed for years to address and stop the trauma caused by constantly moving children from home to home.
The settlement is the result of the class action M.B. v. Howard filed in November 2018 by the National Center for Youth Law and co-counsel at Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Kansas City attorney and Child Welfare Law Specialist Lori Burns-Bucklew, Children’s Rights, and the global law firm DLA Piper.
Kansas agreed to the settlement in principal in July of 2020, a month before the state’s child welfare system was slammed by a federal audit. Now the state must begin implementing a raft of reforms and hit periodic benchmarks over the next three to four years under court supervision. The changes include not only providing mental health care but also taking steps to reduce extreme placement instability.
“When we began speaking with Kansas youth, families and advocates about their experiences with the foster care system, we were shocked by the intensity of the housing instability they described, said Welch, back in July when the settlement was initially agreed to.