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Family and friends who take on foster kids in Kansas say they need more support from the state

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

Kinship placements can be a better option than a licensed foster home, but kinship parents say they need more support

TOPEKA, Kansas — Twila Lasiter worked in a special needs foster home for more than two decades. That taught her how hard the foster care system can be on children.

When a family member’s child entered the system, she took on the job of being a kinship foster parent.

Kinship placements put children with family members or close family friends, like coaches or teachers, instead of a foster home with strangers. It is seen as a better alternative to a regular placement because children are with people they are more familiar with, often in the communities that they know.

But kinship parents in Kansas say they can feel exploited by the system, dumping monumental responsibilities on families without the backing they need to look after children in crisis. They say placements are rushed, they are offered little help once the child is in the home and that children often stay in their homes years longer than expected.

Lasiter learned only after taking the children that they had multiple court appointments in the next few days. The courthouse was two hours away, yet the social worker never checked to see if Lasiter had a car or driver’s license and whether she had to work.

“It was extremely rushed,” she said. “It's pretty much, ‘Here are these kids, you take care of them and forget that we exist.’”

Lasiter struggled to get a psychological evaluation even though the children’s needs were documented.

Eventually, she wanted to become a licensed foster home so she would go through training and be better prepared to care for the children. Licensed foster parents also get paid more to cover their costs. Her social worker told her licensing wasn’t required and didn’t help her get licensed. Eventually, Lasiter got it on her own.

Because kinship parents are paid less Lasiter thinks the state is rushing placements to kin to “save money in the long run.” The state denied any financial motivation.

Some of the private contractors that handle kinship placements said they have heard similar complaints before.

Programs available to parents do vary by agency, but support groups for parents, day care assistance and transportation help can be available. Some agencies are hiring more managerial and support staff to focus specifically on kinship placements.

Evan Wood, director of kinship care with KVC Kansas, said his department had seven workers and now employs 39 people to work on kinship cases and is trying to hire five more. He said that’s allowed staff to check in with parents more frequently and advocate for their needs.

“(KVC Kansas) has found that we need to invest more and more in supporting those families,” Wood said. “We don’t live in a perfect world where I think all those things could be completely addressed, but we want to do our best and we want to hear that feedback.”

Statewide, the Department for Children and Families partnered with the Children's Alliance of Kansas to create an online training program called Kinship Origins.

 The Origins training program is less than a year old, but the next iteration of it could be coming soon.
The Origins training program is less than a year old, but the next iteration of it could be coming soon.

Parents can spend 15 minutes or multiple hours taking the online training, said Cris Moody, the training program manager for Children’s Alliance. It has video interviews from other foster parents, slides that help parents through problems they may encounter and includes information on the basics of the child welfare system.

“Origins is the starting point,” he said. “It’s where parents can turn to first and hopefully start to answer some of those questions.”

The changes and upcoming developments do address some foster parent concerns, but Stephanie West-Potter remains skeptical. West-Potter is the chair of the Kansas Foster Accountability and Advisory Board. The group was created as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that accused DCF of neglecting foster children.

She said the additional support is good, but she has not seen it working in practice. West-Potter still hears parent complaints even though some of the support programs are in place.

“We’re all just in a pretty bad place right now,” she said.

Kansas wants to increase the number of kinship placements in the coming years. Currently, about half of children were placed in family foster homes while 42% were placed with family or close friends —kinship placements. DCF wants to increase kinship until it accounts for 50% of placements.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa. Foster parents hoping to talk about their experiences in Kansas can email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Blaise Mesa is a reporter for the Kansas City Beacon. He is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government. Mesa previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service. He also worked as a reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal.