Gov.-elect Kelly, others upset over lack of mental health treatment facilities

Gov.-elect Laura Kelly on Monday expressed shock that a state agency hasn’t done more to expand facilities to help young people with severe mental health problems. 

In a meeting of the Child Welfare Task Force, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said there were 140 youth on a waiting list to receive help at Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTF). 

“I’m stunned that your agency has not done anything concrete to deal with that issue,” said Kelly who as a state senator is a member of the Child Welfare Task Force. 

Task Force Chairwoman Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, was also upset. She said the task force, which is forwarding recommendations to the Legislature, has been discussing the lack of PRTF beds for 18 months. 

“You have yet to offer a solution to us,” Schmidt told KDADS officials. Schmidt is the Kansas Insurance Commissioner-elect. 

State Rep. Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexa, said the lack of PRTFs is a crisis. 

The 140 children on the waiting list are in detention centers, placed in foster care or still in their homes, officials said. There are 282 licensed beds in Kansas. 

Kelly, who is preparing a state budget proposal as she becomes governor, asked KDADS if it has included funding to incentivize more PRTF beds. KDADS officials however said PRTFs are private facilities, although licensed and funded by the state.  

Kelly also indicated she is going to work to reverse state welfare restrictions that a University of Kansas study has said has resulted in increase in child abuse, placement of children in foster care. 

Starting in 2011, Brownback and his Republican allies in the Legislature enacted a series of changes to the major cash assistance program — called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — that reduced the length of time for benefits and set up other restrictions.  

The KU study said sanctions that remove families from TANF as well as barriers to obtaining TANF appear to increase abuse and foster care placements. When families lost benefits through sanctions, abuse and neglect victims increased 15.3 percent and foster care placements increased 15.8 percent, the study said. 

Another study by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that the vast majority of Kansas families leaving TANF did not find steady work and remained in poverty. And other studies show few Kansas families eligible for childcare assistance actually receive that assistance.

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