By MADELINE FOX
Kansas’ troubled child welfare agency asked lawmakers Monday for money to solve mounting problems — foster kids sleeping on offices, children lost in the system, and a skyrocketing caseload.
Legislators and advocates expressed outrage earlier at news that children slept in foster care contractors’ offices because foster homes had no room. Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said some of the requested money would go toward holding beds open for hard-to-place kids.
The money, $16.5 million over two years, would also allow DCF to hire more people to find kids who have run away or otherwise disappeared from their foster care placements.
Meier-Hummel’s predecessor, Phyllis Gilmore, was criticized for being seemingly unaware that three sisters had been missing from their foster home in Tonganoxie for months. Meier-Hummel has been getting a daily report of missing kids since taking office Nov. 1. She said about 70 kids are currently missing from their foster care placements.
The secretary said $6.55 million of the added money would go toward keeping children safely with their families — and out of foster care.
“We (should) do the right thing by keeping children in families, but first, they have to be safe,” Meier-Hummel said.
Colyer said the appointment of a new DCF secretary, as well as the legislative interest around a child welfare task force that was created last year, has created an opportunity for change.
“We’re at a juncture where we have legislative support, we have some new ideas and we’re going to be doing a top-to-bottom review – we want to deal with problems,” said Colyer, who’s taking the lead on child welfare in the expectation that he’ll soon replace Sam Brownback as governor. He’s also running to be elected governor in November.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, said the recommendation for more money tells her Brownback intends to make child welfare a priority this legislative session.
“All of the additional funds are needed, and they all address problems areas that we heard about last year,” said Gallagher, who is a member of the Child Welfare Task Force. “Most of the legislature is aware of the problems in the system, and has the willingness to address it with additional funding.”
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.