Kansas is failing its foster children

Our state government should be judged by the way it values and takes care of the most needy of its citizens. If we were to grade our state government today on how it supports foster children, it would get an F.

Last year, it was reported that at least 70 of the 7,000 foster kids in Kansas were missing.

Later, the number of missing foster kids in Kansas was reported to be 80. Now as recently as April, that number was reported as 68.

This should be unacceptable to all Kansans. At the recent Republican Party gathering in Holton, Rep. Randy Garber, a member of a special task force on the foster care system, was urged to do more.

Kids are removed from the home of their birth parents by state officials if it is determined that the birth parents can’t safely take care of them, and for other valid reasons. What then should be the consequence for a state government that cannot keep track of the state’s foster children?

The state of Kansas, by vote of the Legislature, privatized its foster care system several years ago, in 1997, as a way to save money, entering contracts with private for-profit agencies, but that does not relieve the state government of its ultimate responsibility for these kids. 

Kansans must place the blame squarely where it belongs. State government leaders have failed these foster kids and the privatization of the state’s foster care system has failed the entire state.

As expected, privatization  has made this difficult social services program worse and more expensive. 

The state was better off when a state department was directly in charge of the entire foster care system. The only thing privatization has done to this program is make it difficult to determine just exactly where the problems began because there’s been little or no accountability and there is so much fault to go around!

The Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) is the name of the agency in charge of the state’s foster program. And even the DCF seems to be facing little consequence for the missing 68 foster children. 

Private foster care “contractors” are hired by the DCF to provide the temporary homes needed for these foster kids. The state’s two regional contractors provided the information about the missing foster children during a legislative oversight panel hearing in October of last year. At that time, it was reported, DCF officials were unaware of the magnitude of the problem! 

KVC Kansas, which serves the eastern part of the state, admitted it was missing about 38 foster children back in October 2017, and the other non-profit - Saint Francis Community Services, which handles the western part of the state - reported that 36 foster children were missing from its system.

Sadly, the number of unaccounted for (some runaway) foster children in Kansas fits within national averages. 

Officials with DCF say they are hopeful that the State Legislature will approve an increase of more than $16 million in federal and state funds over the next years. 

Gov. Jeff Colyer says DCF needs more funds to hire a second full-time investigator and additional funds to address the shortage of emergency placement options so foster kids don’t have to continue to be lodged overnight sometimes at offices of the state’s two contractors. 

In April, Sen. Laura Kelly, who is also a member of the special task force on foster care, and a candidate for governor, said, “There’s really been no movement in the right direction.’’

I am urging all newspapers across the state to keep the pressure on our elected officials. All Kansas citizens should do the same.

Foster children sleeping in offices is a very visible indication of a system in crisis. Foster children missing and unaccounted for is a very visible sign of neglect on the part of our state government.     

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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