TOPEKA – The Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) focuses on offering a helping hand to Kansans in need so they can become self-reliant and prosperous. Since 2011, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients have reported 47,906 new employments. Additionally, according to a Kids Count report, childhood poverty in Kansas is at the lowest level since 2004. In the past five years, the number of Kansas children in poverty has decreased by 26 percent.
Despite these improvements, outside advocates have criticized the agency’s public assistance policies. Specifically, researchers at the University of Kansas issued a study asserting, “sanctions that remove families from TANF appear to increase abuse and neglect and foster care placements.” Following this study, DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel implemented a thorough review of DCF policies, as well as an analysis of TANF time limits and foster care numbers across the country. Following the robust review, DCF found no correlation existed between TANF time limits and foster care. With that being said, DCF instituted Risk Removal Staffings to ensure best practice with families and address this concern. Risk Removal Staffing teams help consider all DCF and community services and supports available to maintain children safely in their home and prevent children from being placed in foster care. To date, they have reviewed 174 cases and have successfully diverted 86 youth from entering foster care, giving them a 49 percent diversion rate. It should also be noted; current Kansas law prohibits children from entering foster care for a poverty reason alone.
Additionally, DCF partnered with Professor Douglas Besharov, a leading child welfare expert at the University of Maryland, to conduct a meta-evaluation of the University of Kansas study, “Do TANF Policies Affect Child Abuse and Neglect? Findings from Kansas.” DCF procured this evaluation to review the study and ensure Kansas has the right public assistance policies in place.
In his analysis, Dr. Besharov concludes the University of Kansas study to be deficient and inconclusive. Below are some of the key components Dr. Besharov highlights in his evaluation of the University of Kansas’ study:
- The hypothesis is based on incomplete data and analysis.
- There are incomplete and shifting variables concerning Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- Child welfare policies and practices were not taken into account.
- The growth in substance abuse is not sufficiently taken into account.
You can also find his full analysis here.
“I believe employment is the only real solution to true economic stability. We want to come alongside Kansans in need and help them with their immediate needs, but long-term, the best thing we can do for them is help them find gainful employment. Every day, DCF staff empower Kansans to successfully find jobs and ensure child safety,” Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said. “Professor Besharov’s study plainly illustrates we cannot simply rely on one study to change public policy or law, but instead we must be diligent about reviewing public policies, data and outcomes to ensure we are doing the right things for Kansas children and families. My team continues to look at this matter internally.”
Professor Besharov and Professor Neil Geilbert, a national expert and collaborator on the meta-evaluation, echoed Secretary Meier-Hummel’s sentiment in his study by concluding, “whatever might be the actual relationship between the availability of welfare benefits and child maltreatment and foster care placement, what we know about their analysis establishes that their study does not support their publicized findings. Simply put, this is a work in progress that should not be used as the basis of causal conclusions or policy recommendations.”
Professor Besharov is a renowned author on welfare reform, child abuse, child welfare and family policy. He was the first director of the U.S. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, from 1975 to 1979.