Envisioning a better tomorrow for children and families

September 13th, 2023 | 4 min read

Care Source Health Alliance Child Welfare Team Kansas

Energetic conversations, creative ideas, and expertise from throughout the Kansas child welfare and health care systems collided in an envisioning session that was a step toward better supporting children and families.

Next step: Action.

CareSource HealthAlliance partnered with the Children’s Alliance of Kansas to host an envisioning session in Olathe in August to address challenges related to child welfare in Kansas, and to take a look at those challenges in new ways.

As the State of Kansas prepares to accept bids awarding contracts to organizations that will manage the state’s Medicaid system, this workshop served as a listening session to allow stakeholders from all aspects of child welfare to voice their concerns and ideas for creating positive change in the lives of Kansas children.

Among the ideas discussed, a recurring theme emerged – a shift from a reactive system that responds to crises after they occur to a preventive approach aimed at averting trauma that adversely affects children and families.

“We heard over and over that we must shift away from a reactionary system that waits for a crisis to occur and then intervenes to a preventive approach that seeks to stop trauma that negatively affects children and families,” said Kellie Hans Reid, CareSource’s director of child and family health.

At its core, the brainstorming session emphasized the significance of engaging with communities and empowering them to take the lead.

“It’s important to listen to communities because each one is different and to support them in a process to really hear from those with lived experience,” Hans Reid said. “Then we can co-design a plan that they will actually use and find supportive.”

Session participants included representatives from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, the Department of Education, mental health providers, foster care contractors, KU Med Center, Kansas Children’s Service League, judicial partners, parents, young people who have experienced foster care, and others who have lived experiences with child welfare services in Kansas.

Jerry Milner and David Kelly, nationally recognized child welfare leaders and founders of Family Justice Group, facilitated the conversation, using collaborative brainstorming exercises designed to break down traditional power structures to ensure all voices were heard. The result was a renewed energy focused on holistic, actionable ways to create a new framework to meet the needs of Kansas children.

“Rather than building a managed care structure and telling people and providers how they fit into that framework, we are taking a different perspective,” Hans Reid said. “We are asking people to tell us what they need and how we can help, and then we will build a system that works best for them.”

That open exchange of ideas between people involved with all aspects of child welfare in Kansas is exactly what CareSource HealthAlliance was trying to achieve, said Dustin Hardison, CareSource director of business development in Kansas.

“It takes more than managed care to help families and keep them together. It takes preventive care, non-profits and churches, health care providers and state agencies all cooperating to find solutions that work – and to be willing to try something that hasn’t been tried before,” he said.

Themes ran through the many discussions, including finding ways to incorporate local, trusted members of a community to help people navigate the complexity of the child welfare and Medicaid systems. Finding those on-the-ground supports and buy-in for addressing parental social determinants of health such as housing, food and safe neighborhoods, was also brought up repeatedly.

Rachel Marsh, CEO of Children’s Alliance, said the conversation felt different. It was the first time a major health care organization has tied big changes in the child welfare system to being an essential part of health care.

“Even with a partnership between a health care organization like CareSource and a child welfare provider network like the Children’s Alliance, we can’t do it alone,” Marsh said. “We had so many people here today from different sectors engaging in problem solving. Everyone came together to not only ask what needs to be done but to discuss creative ways to implement long-term systemic changes.”

Hans Reid said she hopes that people left the envisioning session with a fundamental shift in the way the think about health care. Rather than viewing problems through a deficit lens where there will never be enough resources, she said people need to look for areas of surplus, which in this case are parents and people with expertise, and then leverage that abundance to focus on the gaps and creative ways to fill them.

“That is what we are aiming to do today. To move the approaches to child welfare and health upstream, engage and convene communities to listen to them and then rally around the families that need them the most,” Hans Reid said.