UPDATE: Review of DCF and local Wichita group concluded

By: KAKE News Email
By: KAKE News Email
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WICHITA, Kan. -- UPDATE 1/14/2014: The Department for Children and Families says and internal and independent review of the department's Wichita office and its connections to the FaithBuilders organization has been completed.

The internal DCF review started after complaints alleging that FaithBuilders -- which provides respite and foster care as well as mentoring for parents facing crises -- had encouraged some parents to place their children into temporary foster care and then sign away their parental rights so the children could be adopted.

The investigation looked into 4 specific allegations that were made:

1. FaithBuilders was selling children out for adoption to the "highest bidder."

2. Andrea Dixon and FaithBuilders, "have the power to override decisions by DCCA, DCF, and the District Attorney when it comes to placing children in foster care and adoptions," because of Dixon's Connections;

3. Andrea Dixon exercised unecessary influence over DCF child placement decisions in the Wichita area.

4. Andrea Dixon and FaithBuilders actively promote adoption of "at-risk" children instead of working to reintegrate such children with their biological families.

The review states that there was no evidence to support the first two allegations. However, It did find evidence to support the allegations that Andrea Dixon had unecessary influence over DCF child placement decision in the Wichita area.

It also found insufficient evidence to support the allegation, but noted that even if it had uncovered evidence, it was not in violation of the law.

The review concluded that the fault lay with employees of the Wichita office of the Department for Children and Families allowing Dixon and FaithBuilders access to confidential information and not Dixon of the organization.

The report says the employees involved have been disciplined. However, the report did not specify how the employees were disciplined.

in an emailed statement, DCF Secretary -Phyllis Gilmore said, “The report represents a comprehensive effort to answer the questions raised, both through internal and independent review processes. A few DCF staff members within the Wichita Region violated DCF policies and procedures. They have been held accountable. I truly believe this is an isolated situation and all appropriate action has been taken."

KAKE News contacted Theresa Freed, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families by telephone seeking specific information on what action had been taken against the employees. We received the following reply by email:

"The exact "appropriate action" for the employees was not outlined because it's a personnel matter. The individuals have been held accountable. The report does outline the policy violations, including sharing confidential information and allowing an individual to have input on case management who was not authorized."

Freed said that even though the employees involved are public employees, personnel matters regarding those employees are not part of the public record. Eemployment status and pay of employees is public information, but Freed said that could only be obtained if we provided specific requests with specific names of the employees.

The ban on children being placed in foster homes through FaithBuilders has been lifted.

In a statement released by FaithBuilders, the organization's board president, Lynn Ward, said, "FaithBuilders is pleased to learn that the Kansas Department of Children and Families has closed its review of DCF's relationship with FaithBuilders, and that FaithBuilders' foster homes, sponsored by DCCCA, are a valuable resource to families in need."

"Although FaithBuilders had appropriate consents/releases of information from families to share information, DCF second-guessed its workers for relying on those consents/releases," Ward said.

Community Activist Mary Dean, who lodged some of the complaints against FaithBuilders said she is not convinced by the investigation's conclusions. "Yeah, it still concerns me", Dean said. "I don't believe that this report resolves the issues that concern me in the first place."

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The Kansas Department for Children and Families is asking its contractors and subcontractors to no longer place children in homes associated with a Wichita faith-based organization.

A department spokeswoman says the move is being made out of an abundance of caution as the department continues to look into complaints about interactions between its Wichita office and FaithBuilders.

State legislators are criticizing the department for not releasing results of a review that was completed Oct. 10.

"It does, I think, raise issues that bring to our attention the need to have a full and open discussion about this really important area," Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita said.

Hedke is concerned that the Department for Children and Families has not been more open about allegations that its Wichita office broke confidentiality laws by providing confidential information to FaithBuilders.

"When you're dealing with children's lives and families' lives and these potentially really intense issues, then I think it makes really good sense for us to know as much as we can," Hedke said.

The internal DCF review started after complaints alleging that FaithBuilders -- which provides respite and foster care as well as mentoring for parents facing crises -- had encouraged some parents to place their children into temporary foster care and then sign away their parental rights so the children could be adopted.

FaithBuilders' executive director Andrea Dixon referred all questions to the organization's attorney Gary Ayers. Ayers said the allegations are not true.

He said FaithBuilders has served more than 400 children over the past seven years and 350 of those were returned to their families. FaithBuilders' website says, "We mentor moms and dads to help break generational cycles of destructive behavior and keep families intact."

In a telephone interview with KAKE News, Ayers said he and Dixon also have not seen the DCF report. Ayers said when asked, the department's general counsel who conducted the investigation said FaithBuilders had not committed any wrongdoing.

DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said in an e-mail that DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore decided the results of the review would be "kept confidential because of concerns regarding children in her care and personnel matters."

Gilmore has also decided she needs more information.

"She now has several people combing each DCF case in which FaithBuilders was involved," Freed's statement said. "We expect to have a complete, public report available as soon as possible."

While the additional review happens, the department has asked its contractors and subcontractors to not place children in homes associated with FaithBuilders.

DCF's regional director for Wichita, Diane Bidwell, resigned from the department effective Oct. 18. The department said Bidwell's resignation was voluntary and was not related to the investigation.

Freed, the DCF spokeswoman, also said the department has not received any complaints about FaithBuilders from families of children placed in foster care.

"So far, we have not received any formal complaints from families regarding Faith Builders," she said via e-mail. "If any families have specific information, please let us know so that we can do the best job possible in determining whether placements are appropriate."

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