Politics & Government

Lawmakers call for audit of Kansas’ foster care system

There are about 6,500 children in the foster care system, according to the Department for Children and Families’ website.
There are about 6,500 children in the foster care system, according to the Department for Children and Families’ website. File photo

Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this story contained a quote inaccurately stating the number of children killed in the foster care system this year.

Two Democratic lawmakers from south-central Kansas are calling for an audit of the state’s foster care system.

“Kansans place great importance on taking care of children in need,” said Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield. “This audit would help to ensure we are engaging our best effort to protect children who have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused.”

About 6,500 children are in the foster care system, according to the Department for Children and Families’ website.

Theresa Freed, spokewsoman for DCF, which oversees the foster care system, said in an e-mail that the agency was aware of the request for an audit and that it welcomes input on how to “better protect children in our state.”

“Every child death is a tragedy that weighs heavy on our hearts. It is always our goal to keep families together when that is a safe option. When it is not, we seek safe and loving foster families to provide temporary placement for children who are removed from their homes,” Freed said. “Our mission is to protect families. Kansas consistently surpasses national safety measure averages with regard to child safety, both in and out of foster care.”

The request comes as the DCF reviews its foster care licensing requirements to ensure the “greater safety and well-being of children.”

Trimmer said four children in the broader DCF system had died in the past two years.

Freed said that DCF was aware of only one death of a child in foster care this year being caused by maltreatment, the first such incident since 2006.

The audit request comes the same month that a federal judge ordered the DCF to release documents related to the death of a Hiawatha boy in 2013 while under the care of a private foster care company that contracts with the DCF.

Trimmer and Ward will submit the request for an audit at Wednesday’s meeting of the Legislative Post Audit Committee. Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, who chairs the committee, said it will be the first item of business on the committee’s agenda.

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, who serves as vice chair, said he would support an audit, provided it is not politically motivated.

“I just want to make sure it’s not politically driven … because we do see that a lot,” O’Donnell said. “But we can absolutely find common ground, because I’ve talked to families that have gone through nightmares with the DCF program in my district, so I know that there have been legitimate problems.”

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

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