Report: Fix troubled child welfare system

State News

December 21, 2018 - 3:01 PM

The Kansas Department for Children and Families. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas must fix its troubled child welfare system now or more vulnerable children will suffer, a coalition of legislators and children’s advocates say in a report released Thursday.

The group, Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope, says that among the problems that must be addressed are disparities in the race of children who are selected to be removed from their homes and children being kept in the state’s custody for too long, the Kansas City Star reported.

High-profile child tragedies have identified shortcomings in child welfare services. A recent review of the Kansas Department for Children and Families also exposed high caseloads, alarming turnover and lack of timely training. At the same time, a record number of children have been in foster care.

“The problems are staring us in the face every day,” said Quinn Ried, policy research analyst with Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center that is a leading member of the coalition. “Thousands of kids every day are being failed by the system designed to protect them.””

The coalition recommends improving funding for food stamp benefits and other programs that help needy families whose funding has decreased significantly in Kansas. It also advocates focusing more on keeping more children in their homes, when possible, and addressing the racial disparities in the child welfare system.

In July of 2014, there were 18,677 children in Kansas served by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. By July of this year, that number had decreased by more than 60 percent, to 7,410. Nearly 143,000 children received food assistance benefits in 2014. Four years later, that number had dropped to 100,578.

“To reduce instances of child maltreatment, Kansas must address the large gaps in the social safety net. … It seems unlikely that these reductions are not contributing to the foster care crisis,” the report states.

As of the end of last month, there were 7,505 Kansas children in out-of-home placements, up from 2,479 from December of 2011. In those seven years, the numbers of kids in placement has increased by an average of 7 percent each year, according to the report.

A federal class action lawsuit filed last month alleges that Kansas children have been treated so poorly that they’ve suffered mentally and sometimes resorted to running away from foster homes. It alleges some have been trafficked for sex, sexually abused inside adoptive homes or in one instance reportedly raped inside a child welfare office.