Numerous problems cited in state’s ability to take care of children who need help

A lack of resources, shortage of foster homes and the effects of recent juvenile justice reforms are causing problems in the state’s ability to take care of children who need help, a new task force heard Tuesday. 

One of the most immediate concerns is that some children with serious problems are being forced to spend the night in the offices of foster care contractors because there is no room for them in a foster home, psychiatric treatment facility or other placement. 

One hundred and 11 times in the last fiscal year, children had to spend the night in the offices of the state’s two foster care contractors — Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Kansas, according to memos from the contractors. 

In June, 31 children spent a total of 37 nights at the Saint France office. Saint Francis Community Services stated these were “children with aggressive behaviors, including assault, sexual aggression, children with juvenile offender charges, children at risk of running from placement, children with suicidal and self-harming behaviors, sibling groups, children with developmental disabilities, child human trafficking survivor, child with medical needs, children with sexualized behavior.” 

During wide-ranging discussions, members of the Child Welfare System Task Force said there were many reasons for the problem. They cited the lack of substance treatment programs, especially in rural areas, an increase in parental drug abuse, and the juvenile justice reforms under Senate Bill 367.  

Those reforms were intended to reduce the number of young people sent to juvenile detention centers by keeping them at home and receiving assistance in community settings. But sometimes, the children aren’t wanted back home, which means the foster care system becomes overcrowded, officials said. 

The task force, which includes legislators, law enforcement and officials with the Kansas Department for Children and Families, decided it would contract with OJP Diagnostics Center to help it facilitate its work. OJP is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and provides technical assistance to local governments in addressing public safety problems. The task force is to provide the Legislature with a work update in January and then a full set of recommendations in January 2019. 

Headed by state Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, the task force was formed during the last legislative session after a state audit found problems with DCF in the oversight of foster care.  

The task force is charged with looking into DCF and other groups that provide child welfare services and into the contributing factors of the increasing number of children in the child welfare system. Its next meeting is set for Oct. 10.

 

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