Foster care doesn’t garner media or legislative attention the way it did during the challenging transition to privatization 17 years ago. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the number of kids in foster care in Kansas recently reached an alarming all-time high.
There were 6,156 children in foster care in April. That was 356 more than a year earlier and 872 more than in 2012, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported.
Where it gets complicated is whether this is a systemic crisis or, believe it or not, something positive.
Dona Booe, chief executive of Kansas Children’s Service League, told KHI, “These are families in crises, and we’re not reaching them because the resources for reaching them have been exhausted.”
From the perspective of District Magistrate Judge Ann Dixson in Dodge City, “The severity of cases is up. The resources for responding to that severity are down.”
Booe and others see a connection between the foster-care numbers and the policy changes at the Kansas Department for Children and Families that reduced the amount of children in households receiving public assistance from 24,567 in April 2011 to 11,867 in April 2014. Plus, Booe said, state-funded support for programs to help at-risk families has declined.
The Brownback administration has another view, saying it has “not seen any evidence” of a correlation between the reduced welfare rolls and the larger foster-care numbers. “We have done a tremendous job of working with community organizations to promote the reporting of child abuse and neglect. Our rate of removal, based on the reports, is constant,” DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed told KHI.
Dana Cox of Salina’s Ashby House family shelter said: “Increased public awareness may be playing a role. 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.”
KHI reported that juvenile court judges are participating in a pair of review panels about foster care. That is good news.
Lawmakers should step up their scrutiny as well, including whether the numbers of children entering foster care somehow were affected by the administration’s 2013 decision to trim the system’s contractors from six to two – Salina-based St. Francis Community Services and Olathe-based KVC Behavioral Healthcare.
Families in crisis should be helped by the administration’s wise decision to invest $9.5 million more next fiscal year for mental health services.
And, of course, the governor and legislators could further aid vulnerable families by dropping their opposition to an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, Kansans with room to spare in their hearts and homes should be aware that more children entering foster care means more foster parents are needed.