Politics & Government

Kansas foster care bill returned to committee

TOPEKA — A bill meant to provide an alternative to foster care was sent back to a committee Thursday after Democrats and moderate Republicans voiced concern about a lack of state oversight.

SB 113 would expand Safe Families for Children, a program that now operates in Topeka. It was started in Illinois in 2002 to help families in crisis find temporary homes for their children.

The bill would allow parents to sign over power of attorney for the children for one year to a temporary guardian. These homes would be authorized by the Department for Children and Families, but they would fall outside the regulations of the foster care system.

Some lawmakers raised concerns about a lack of oversight and called for families to undergo training and background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said it would be dangerous to send children into homes without conducting a thorough background check or assuring the people had the necessary training.

Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, an advocate of the bill, contended that the Safe Families program already conducts its own background checks. The program relies on churches and other community organizations to help find homes for children.

After two hours of debate, the House sent the bill back to a joint committee to be tweaked by members of the House and Senate.

The bill was combined with two other pieces of legislation that are almost universally supported. One requires a law enforcement officer to take a child into custody when the officer has probable cause to believe criminal use of controlled substances in the home is threatening the child’s safety.

The other legislation is meant to encourage college students to call 911 if a friend has drunk too much alcohol. It would ensure that the caller would have immunity from prosecution if he or she also had been drinking. The legislation was developed by students at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.