Services for Kansas crossover youth slowed by lack of data, interagency collaboration

Rep. Susan Concannon and the Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight hear testimony Tuesday from state and municipal leaders about crossover youths, those who are ages 10 or older with any level of concurrent involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A leader for the Kansas agency charged with maintaining the state’s child protective programs said youths involved in the child welfare system and juvenile justice system face unique challenges not often reflected in data collected by various state agencies.

Department for Children and Families deputy secretary Tanya Keys said the lack of integrated data systems across state organizations that may touch on the issue raises a challenge of how to define and identify those who are “at-risk” of becoming a crossover youth.

Crossover youths are children ages 10 and older who have any involvement in both the welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“Although they are a small segment of child welfare and juvenile justice, they are a population with a high level of need and a high level of communication,” Keys said. “We know they require cross-system collaboration and greater placement stability for services to be effective.”

The Special Committee on Foster Care Oversight, chaired by Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, held the first of two days of testimony Tuesday.

Keys shared findings with the committee from the Crossover Youth Working Group. Although the lack of data limited the scope of the group’s analysis, Keys said, there are ongoing efforts to help define, track and impact outcomes for Kansas crossover youth.

The working group was established to study the impact of 2016 legislation that significantly reformed the juvenile justice system to limit the number of kids who were incarcerated.

The working group studied 691 crossover youths from KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Ministries and compiled data from across several sources, including DCF, Kansas Department of Corrections, Office of Judicial Administration and Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

In January 2020, Gov. Laura Kelly ordered a reorganization of agencies that would have put many of the services provided to crossover youths under one roof. Legislators voted down the reorganization plan.

Other efforts are now underway that could bridge the information gap.

In 2018 and 2019, the Legislature appropriated funding for a modernized child welfare information system. The plan would consolidate five existing systems into one to reduce redundant data entry and, in turn, help caseload management, worker retention and child safety.

In October 2019, Kansas began working with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform to implement the Crossover Youth Practice Model. The Kansas Crossover State Policy Team was formed to help carry out this multi-system and multi-agency collaboration used to identify and break down barriers to addressing crossover in Kansas.

Two primary areas of concern for the model include information-sharing: inadequate data systems and case management, and interagency collaboration. In response, officials are examining existing agreements among agencies and reviewing current legal code related to information sharing.

“What I really appreciate about this work is there’s a very intentional collaboration that is going on between OJA, DCF and KDOC on a very regular basis,” said Megan Milner, director of community-based services for the corrections department. “The intentional and genuine partnership among these agencies strengthens the system of care by enabling information sharing and purposely incorporating the voices of youth and families into all decisions affecting themselves and their communities.”

In 2016, Sedgwick County became a Crossover Youth Practice Model site. The process, which lasted from August 2017 to January 2019, targeted children and families receiving family preservation services that have a subsequent intake with the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center in Wichita.

While the program has concluded, a multidisciplinary team continues to meet monthly to review dually adjudicated youths before a sentencing hearing in a juvenile offender case, said Steven Stonehouse, deputy director of juvenile programs at the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections.

“We believe in the Crossover Youth Practice Model and we consider the model the way we do business,” Stonehouse said. “Collaboration and coordination make good sense. We agree that the model presents a fiscally responsible model to meet the complex needs of crossover youth.”

The model will be introduced to two Kansas pilot sites — Shawnee County and Montgomery County — in early 2021.