House committee starts reviewing child services needs

In her State of the State address last week, Gov. Laura Kelly described child welfare services in Kansas as an emergency crisis and then repeated the names of several children who fell through cracks in the system and died from abuse.

“I refuse to forget them,” Kelly said.

On Tuesday, the House Children and Seniors Committee started to review the details of a report from the Child Welfare System Task Force that studied the system for 18 months and produced numerous findings and recommendations.

Former state Rep. Linda Gallagher, a member of the task force, told the committee, “We have reached a point where we must take action.”

The number of children in foster case has increased 42 percent since 2012. Last year, numerous media reports detailed cases of children lost in the system, sleeping in offices because of the lack of appropriate services and several who ultimately died while their needs were unmet.

Gallagher said social workers with the Kansas Department for Families and Children are overworked, stressed out and underpaid. Many are leaving DCF to work for school districts where work schedules are more regular, officials said.

Kelly’s budget provides funding for 55 additional child welfare positions in addition to funding for family supports.

But more may be needed. DCF is the largest user of data of any state agency, but Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Meriam, said DCF’s computer is “as old as DOS” and deals with Kansas’ most vulnerable population. A new computer system could cost more than $50 million.

The Children and Seniors Committee is scheduled to meet daily. Mary Tye, with the Kansas Foster and Adoptive Parents Association, and who has fostered dozens of children and served on the task force, wished committee members “blessings” as they try to prioritize needs.

“All of these things are important and the children in our care are really important,” Tye said.

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