Kansas has more children in foster care than ever

Jun 11, 2014

The number of Kansas children in foster care is at an all-time high.
The number of Kansas children in foster care is at an all-time high.
Credit Cathy Mores/Special to KHI News Service / khi.org

Kansas has the more kids in foster care than ever reported the Kansas Health Institute.  In April, there were 6,156 children in the system.  That’s an increase of 356 over April of 2013, and 872 more than April of 2012.  The reasons for the all-time high vary.

Dona Booe is the chief executive of the Kansas Children’s Service League.  She says a crisis is building.

“This is a primary indicator that we’re not reaching families before tragedies happen,” Booe said. “These are families in crises, and we’re not reaching them because the resources for reaching them have been exhausted.”

Theresa Freed is the spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Children and Families.  She says the increase is due to increased public awareness.

“We are seeing an increasing number of reports being made,” Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, wrote in an email to KHI News Service. “The increase in foster care cases is consistent with that. We attribute the increase in reports to greater public awareness of the issues of child abuse and neglect.”

Booe and other children’s advocates say this is only one reason the numbers are increasing.  They note the increase coincides with DCF policy changes that began in 2011.  Those changes resulted in the loss of state and public assistance programs for thousands of families. 

 “What we’re seeing is that access to community supports and to government-funded supports have diminished in the last couple years,” Booe says. “That takes a toll on families. It adds to the stress that they’re under, and it increases the risk factors that lead to kids entering the system.”

Dana Cox is the operations director at Ashby House in Salina.  The family shelter director says she’s also seeing demand for services surpass supply.

 “Increased public awareness may be playing a role,” she says. “But the far more serious issues have to do with the lack of services and the difficulty in gaining access to the services that are available. Mental health is a huge issue. Substance abuse is too, definitely.”

Several Kansas juvenile court judges are participating in review panels to keep tabs on the state’s foster care system.

Magistrate Judge Ann Dixson participates in the panel.  She presides over most of the foster case load in Dodge City.  She says she’s noticed an increase number of criminal drug-possession charges filed against adults whose children were present at the time of their arrest.

“That is a grave concern, to know that children are in a house where needles and drugs are present,” Dixson says. “It is neglect for these kids to grow up having no concept of what a normal healthy family is, thinking that drugs being out on the table is just the way it is.”

Dixson said her courtroom observations mirror that of fellow panelist Saline and Ottawa County Magistrate Judge Mary Thrower. “The severity of cases is up,” she said. “The resources for responding to that severity are down.”

Foster care services were mostly privatized in 1996.  Since that time, the state paid as many six nonprofit organizations to oversee its foster care, adoption, and family preservation efforts.  Last year the services were provided by only two.

More details about the increased numbers in foster care is available from the Kansas Health Institute.