70-plus chil­dren miss­ing from Kansas’ foster care sys­tem

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION -

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Law­mak­ers are ex­press­ing out­rage after learn­ing more than 70 foster chil­dren are miss­ing in Kansas, a num­ber that of­fi­cials say is in line with the national av­er­age.

Foster care con­trac­tors pro­vided the in­for­ma­tion dur­ing a meet­ing of an over­sight panel Tues­day at the State­house in re­sponse to ques­tions about the dis­ap­pear­ance of three sis­ters from a north­east Kansas foster home, The Kansas City Star re­ports. Po­lice be­lieve the miss­ing girls — ages 15, 14 and 12 — ran away in Au­gust.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, told a child wel­fare task force meet­ing that when she asked the Kansas Depart­ment for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies about the miss­ing chil­dren on Tues­day, the agency knew noth­ing. She said after the meet­ing that she was “flab­ber­gasted.”

The agency’s chief, Phyl­lis Gil­more, said after the meet­ing that she can’t dis­cuss the miss­ing sis­ters.

She said in a state­ment Wednesday that the depart­ment has long had poli­cies in place to at­tempt to find miss­ing foster chil­dren quickly and that many are re­turned to their foster homes swiftly.

“These chil­dren who run away are not un­der lock and key; they are gen­er­ally in fam­ily foster homes, older youth, who at­tend school and ac­tiv­i­ties, and they of­ten miss their bi­o­log­i­cal fam­i­lies,” she said.

She also said that some of the miss­ing chil­dren who are con­sid­ered to be on the run are with a par­ent at­tempt­ing to keep them out of foster care.

KVC Kansas, one of the foster care con­trac­tors, said it has roughly 38 miss­ing chil­dren. The other com­pany, Saint Francis Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, said 36 in its sys­tem are miss­ing.

Chad An­der­son, chief clin­i­cal of­fi­cer at KVC Kansas, told the child wel­fare task force that the num­ber of miss­ing rep­re­sented about 1 per­cent of the foster care pop­u­la­tion and is in line with the national av­er­age.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices re­ports that dur­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s 2015 fis­cal year, about 4,600 chil­dren in foster care were listed as ru­n­aways, or 1.1 per­cent of the nearly 428,000 to­tal. Kansas had al­most 7,100 chil­dren in foster care in Au­gust, so the num­ber of those miss­ing is about 1 per­cent.

Still, An­der­son ac­knowl­edged the con­trac­tors could do a bet­ter job.

“I don’t know that we as con­trac­tors have shared as much in terms of miss­ing youth and the day to day as we prob­a­bly should,” An­der­son said, adding that con­trac­tors up­date DCF ev­ery 30 days on the miss­ing chil­dren.

Rep. Linda Gal­lagher, a Lenexa Repub­li­can, said she was shocked at the num­ber of miss­ing chil­dren.

Even if the num­ber miss­ing is in line with the national av­er­age, she said, it is still too many.

Rep. Steve Al­ford, a Ulysses Repub­li­can who chairs the task force, said after the meet­ing he wasn’t re­ally sur­prised.

“There’s a break be­tween DCF and the con­tract­ing,” he said. “Once the chil­dren ... (go from the court) into the pos­ses­sion of the sec­re­tary, she hands them off to the con­trac­tors and it’s their re­spon­si­bil­ity, you know, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of as­pects.”

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