Shared from the 1/18/2019 The Topeka Capital-Journal eEdition

Let’s not be misled about Kansas’ failed foster care system

The harsh realities of Kansas’ foster care system should be front and center as the new administration takes office and the legislative session begins. Each day at FosterAdopt Connect, we see the trauma imposed on children in the system. Until Kansas kids receive the care they’re entitled to, the spotlight must remain brightly focused on our child welfare system.

The number of children in Kansas foster care is still near record highs. According to a class-action lawsuit, kids in care bounce from placement to placement at dangerously high rates, disrupting their schooling and access to mental and behavioral health services.

In a recent op-ed, former DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel highlighted improvements including pursuing the Family First Prevention Services Act, ending the practice of kids sleeping in offices, decreasing the number of missing children, and increasing transparency. But a closer examination shows these changes are insufficient.

DCF could pursue more funding from the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which matches funds for services preventing kids from entering foster care. The agency budgeted an increase of $3.9 million for family preservation services over a two-year period, but child welfare advocates have made a persuasive case for investing tens of millions more into prevention and preservation services in the first year alone.

Kids may no longer be sleeping in offices, but they are shuffled between offices and night-to-night placements, often spending their days in offices and missing school.

Meier-Hummel claimed the number of missing and runaway youths dropped 26.7 percent. The claim compares Aug. 31, 2017, (86 runaway youths) to Aug. 31, 2018 (63 runaway youths). She cherry-picked the data. If the time-period shifted forward one or two months, the numbers would reflect an increase.

The average number of missing youths is down slightly so far in Fiscal Year 2019 compared to Fiscal Year 2018 — but by 9.8 percent, not 26.7 percent. The trend since Fiscal Year 2011 is up, and Fiscal Year 2018 has a record high at an average of 81 missing or runaway youths.

Though Meier-Hummel cited improvements to transparency, DCF has been anything but transparent. Gov. Laura Kelly called DCF’s new grants, which are now on hold, “essentially no-bid contracts” and questioned their legality. Open records requests regarding basic information continue to go unfulfilled.

According to a new report from the Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope coalition, the number of kids in family-like settings is at its lowest level in at least a decade. The average length of stay for kids in care increased to its highest level in over 10 years (21.1 months). Kansas also hit record levels for splitting up siblings in care and kids’ likelihood to reenter care after leaving.


Kelly, interim DCF Secretary Laura Howard and many legislators have demonstrated a commitment to fixing Kansas’ broken foster care system.

As the 2019 legislative session begins, these should be the administration’s and Legislature’s priorities: Strengthen the safety net, focus on targeted prevention through fully implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, and improve conditions for youths in care.

Lori Ross is CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit agency serving abused and neglected children and the families caring for them.

See this article in the e-Edition Here