The Kansas Department for Children and Families has reached a settlement with Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, which filed a class action lawsuit against the department in 2018 that demanded better care of foster kids.


The settlement agreement, announced Wednesday in a news release, requires DCF to focus on placement stability and access to mental health services.


"The settlement agreement affirms our commitment to Kansas children by continuing efforts to build an effective child welfare system," DCF Secretary Laura Howard said in a statement. "The work we agree to complete to resolve this lawsuit began a year and a half ago when I stepped into my role as secretary and will continue to be our primary focus."


Kansas Appleseed said in a news release an "ambitious settlement plan" was agreed upon and will bring "fundamental changes to a child welfare system that has long been in crisis."


"This is a moment that took far too long to arrive," Kansas Appleseed litigation director Teresa Woody said. "But the children of Kansas have finally been heard. We became partners in this suit because it was clear that legal advocacy could bring change when all else had failed. That day has come."


DCF will be required to end overnight stays in offices; cease night-to-night placements by December 2021 with the exception of those that meet placement stability standards; ensure statewide crisis intervention services; end 14-day, short-term placements by December 2023; end delays in approval of mental health treatment; and ensure placements don’t exceed its licensed capacity.


The agreement also requires DCF to create an independent advisory group within six months of the order that will assist in action planning and improvement, report and validate the number and placement duration of youth placed in detention centers and foster care caseloads.


DCF will be required to provide foster kids with a trauma and mental health screening within 30 days of entering care, provide stable placement for at least 90% of children in care, ensure 90% of foster kids have their mental health needs addressed and ensure that within a 12-month reporting period foster children have one or fewer moves in the last 12 months.


Howard said she feels comfortable entering into the agreement because she knows DCF has been working to achieve the requirements.


"I believe all of these measures are achievable in the timelines set forward and also ensure Kansas isn’t caught up in long term litigation," Howard said.