Kelly can expect troubled foster care system


State News

November 26, 2018 - 10:57 AM


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The incoming Kansas governor will face a large task dealing with a struggling child welfare system recently hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging conditions were so poor that children suffered mentally or ran away from foster homes.

The lawsuit filed in federal court this month alleges that children have been trafficked for sex, sexually abused inside adoptive homes or raped inside a child welfare office, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Lawmakers, experts and advocates say Democratic governor-elect Laura Kelly must significantly invest in the state’s Department for Children and Families to improve the system. Kelly will become governor on Jan. 14.

Kelly said the department will be “a high priority” for her administration. She said the agency has lacked resources for almost a decade.

“I will take the same approach to DCF, though, that we’re going to take to every agency, which is to during the transition time to dig deep and figure out where the issues are, what’s working, what’s not working, and then set a course for fixing whatever we find that needs to be fixed,” she said.

Many advocates said they believe Kelly’s experience as a member of a legislative task forced aimed at improving the child welfare system will help her make progress on the issues.

“She really works on that task force,” said Lori Burns-Bucklew, a Kansas City attorney and accredited child welfare law specialist. “She doesn’t just show up.””

The task force will deliver its recommendations in January and could possibly provide lawmakers with a road map on how to improve the system.

But Burns-Bucklew said Kelly faces a big challenge.

“She’s inheriting an under-resourced system,” she said. “This system has been stripped bare over the years. They haven’t just cut to the bone. They’ve cut into the bone.””

The task force has examined issues such as improving the agency’s outdated computer systems and its work force, which has seen high turnover and high caseloads.