Cabinet officials update lawmakers on difficulty placing some foster children

Published 11:30 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) updated lawmakers Tuesday on the difficulty in placing some foster care children, known as higher acuity, in locations where they can receive more intensive services.

Cabinet Secretary Eric Friedlander told the Interim Joint Committee on Families and Children, he was disappointed in a Request for Proposals (RFP) that they sent out.

“I am disappointed to tell you we got no responses. Zero. I believe there are now individual organizations that have stepped forward to enter into deeper discussions about this, but I really thought someone was going to respond.”

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He said they were hoping to hear from hospitals on housing and treating about 24 children statewide, but the RFP was open to anyone who wanted to participate, like residential psychiatric treatment facilities.

When asked by committee members why the RFP was rejected, Friedlander replied, “We had what was known as a no reject, no eject policy, meaning if we referred a kid to you were going to take the kid.   I think folks got very nervous about being asked to take kids that are outside of the facility’s scope of expertise.”

Due to the ongoing difficulty, which has led to instances of children sleeping in offices or hotels, accompanied by social workers, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton and the committee co-chair, asked if it was time for the state to look at alternatives, like opening more such facilities itself.

Friedlander responded by saying, “I remember when the Department of Justice required the state in 2003 to enter into a consent decree because what was then called the Department for Social Services was not taking care of these kids and they were getting hurt.”

That led to the creation of the Department of Juvenile Justice.  Friedlander noted that when the consent decree ended, there was a reduction in funding for the department.

“I don’t want to say ‘yes’, but if we can’t figure out some way for these kids to get placed,” Friedlander stated, “I don’t know what else we are going to be able to do.”

Carroll commented, “I know some of these facilities sure don’t mind taking state dollars, and the one time we ask for help for a population of kids who are in dire need, and nobody steps up, maybe we should remember that the next time there are budget requests.”

He added, “This is beyond crisis at this point.”

Lawmakers said they want a plan to address the matter for the 2024 legislative session.