News concerning Children in Need of Care cases supervised by Kansas Department for Children and Families have been disturbing over the past few months, from former mayor Carl Brewer’s tragedy concerning his grandson to the missing children across the state. However, I believe there is hope for these families in trouble.
For the past five years, we have seen families reunited by mentoring those families who have children in DCF custody. We have offered our services to these families through parenting classes and mentoring. Visiting family court (just west of I-135 and south of Lincoln), you would be overwhelmed by the number of families who are in the process of trying to have their children placed back in their home. These parents have been devastated by having their children removed and do everything in their power to complete court orders.
This process is tedious, but I have observed all those involved — judges to district attorneys, client lawyers to St. Francis Family services — are dedicated to serve the children. In my conversation with these workers, I have been impressed by their passion for the children they serve and the heavy workload they tackle.
These parents are devastated, as they are overwhelmed with extensive court orders and they are limited to visiting their children for an hour a week. Many have little to no family support. The most frequent contributing factor to CINC cases is substance abuse.
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Too often we have heard a judge state from the bench: “You have chosen drugs over your children.” No parent would choose “drugs” over their children purposefully, but their addiction often seems their only relief. We have mentored these families and helped them complete their court orders and see their families return home. It is rewarding to see families ‘ReLaunch.”
We have seen families living in their cars and heavily addicted to methovercome their addiction and have their children returned home. We have worked with over 100 families and while some of the parents had their parental rights terminated, many more were able to complete their court orders and have their children returned to the home. We have found that when you encourage families to work with the system and teach them parenting techniques, parents and children are not only reunited, but are better.
It is clear that there needs to be a focus on the troubles of DCF and changes need to be made, but what will make a real difference are families who will support these families with CINC cases. While there is concern about kids missing in foster care and certainly there needs to be focus on encouraging children to not “run” from their foster home, we need to focus on supporting these parents to “ReLaunch” their family.
In our parenting classes (we offer 27 weeks of classes at no charge), we teach that our children have three basic needs: secure love, significant purpose and strong hope. One of the best gifts we can give these families in need is support and encouragement. These families want to be restored and it should be the responsibility of DCF to focus on restoration. Our greatest resource is our families. We need to help those families in need of support.
Dr. Michael O’Donnell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Wichita.