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Phyllis Gilmore: Foster-care link unfounded

  • Published Wednesday, August 21, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families lives by its mission: to protect children, promote healthy families and encourage personal responsibility. Our goal is to keep children in their homes when it is safe to do so. We also want to see Kansans working so they can support themselves and their families.

Poverty does not cause people to abuse their children. And DCF does not seek to have children removed from their homes because their parents are poor. We make every attempt to keep families together and get them connected to the resources they need to reduce hardships, whether that’s through family preservation resources or with job-searching assistance.

Unfortunately, Kansas is one of many states across the country seeing a trend of increasing numbers of children coming into state care because of suspected abuse and neglect.

“Just a coincidence?” (Aug. 18 Eagle Editorial) referred to a Kansas Health Institute News Service article in which the reporter attempted to correlate an increase in foster care with changes in Kansas welfare eligibility policy.

For more than a decade (predating the Brownback administration), Kansas has seen the number of child-in-need-of-care reports steadily increasing. This sad reality can possibly be tied to a number of factors. To suggest that a change in welfare policy has driven the increase in foster-care cases is unfounded and far too simplistic.

The state of Kansas and the federal government pay for a wide range of services to help families: child care, education, technical training, employment screening, family preservation, utility bills, food, cash assistance and more. We ask in return that adults be honest, have a desire to improve their financial situation, learn how to budget, want to work, not abuse their children, ensure that their children have a safe place to live, attend school and have food to eat.

Just one example of how DCF has helped a family in crisis: A single mother of three lost her job and became homeless. She received cash and food assistance and guidance from a DCF economic and employment human services specialist. The woman found a part-time job, then received career coaching to find a better job. When the woman’s car broke down, DCF helped her with repairs and fuel. DCF never took her children, but helped her find her way out of a difficult time in her life. The woman’s message to others: “I am strong and resilient and learn from what I have been through.”

No child is removed from his or her home because of poverty. Children are removed from their homes because their parents and caregivers have made bad choices and there’s a risk of harm to the children.

We have some exciting initiatives on the horizon to lower the number of children coming into state care and to increase adoptions. We anticipate that our new foster-care and adoption contractors will help us toward that goal. And we will continue our efforts to show compassion while helping Kansans support themselves and their families.

Phyllis Gilmore is secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

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