Foster care provider agrees to repay Kansas funds, turn over financial records

By: - February 3, 2021 10:53 am

William Clark, CEO at Saint Francis Ministries, says he is working to promote a culture of integrity: “Do the right thing at the right time for the right reason when nobody’s looking.” (Dec. 18, 2020, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Saint Francis Ministries has agreed to provide financial documentation and backpay to Kansas following the revelation of mismanagement of funds by the foster care contractor’s former leadership.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families on Wednesday announced efforts to improve oversight for $71.5 million awarded in 2019 to Saint Francis through a state contract that expires June 30, 2023.

Under the new arrangement, Saint Francis will have to isolate Kansas funding from other accounts, demonstrate how it plans to use Kansas funding, turn over financial statements on a monthly basis, provide access to any documentation requested by DCF, and pay a penalty for failing to meet any of the requirements.

“I remain concerned about Saint Francis Ministries’ prior lack of transparency regarding their financial health,” said DCF secretary Laura Howard. “These new oversight provisions guarantee DCF receives information it previously requested from former SFM leadership and additional information moving forward in order to fully understand the depth of SFM’s financial difficulties and to take steps to assist in rectifying identified issues.”

DCF authorized an audit of Saint Francis finances in January 2020, but former leadership refused to cooperate fully with the investigation. DCF expects the in-depth report to be finalized by April.

Morgan Rothenberger, spokeswoman for Saint Francis, said the organization is willing to work with Kansas to adhere to any requirements.

“Saint Francis Ministries wants to be a good partner, and we appreciate their support during recent difficult months,” Rothenberger said. “We worked closely with DCF leaders on this amendment. Moving forward, we are confident that we can meet the requirements of the contract, to include caring for the children and families we serve.”

Saint Francis teetered on insolvency last year as former CEO Robert Smith and COO Tom Blythe misled their board about dubious investments in technology and a foreign-grown superfood. An internal investigation revealed Smith used money for personal purchases, planned to scalp Chicago Cubs tickets, and knowingly agreed to enter a contract with Nebraska that Saint Francis couldn’t afford. Smith and Blythe left the organization in November.

William Clark, interim CEO of Saint Francis, told Nebraska lawmakers last month that the organization used $10 million of Kansas funding to cover losses in Nebraska. Last week, Nebraska officials agreed to repay the $10 million to Kansas and replaced a five-year deal for Saint Francis with a two-year deal that adds $25 million in annual funding.

The agreement with Kansas demands Saint Francis outline how it will reinvest the $10 million in Kansas services.

Clark said Saint Francis is on course to be financially stable because of the new Nebraska deal, elimination of international services, plans to sever ties with former IT director William Whymark, and other changes in operations.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.