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Government

Bill Would Enforce Kansas Family Limit On Foster Children

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55Laney69, flickr Creative Commons
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A Senate bill that would strengthen limits on the number of foster children in a home raised concerns from some who say it could lead to splitting sibling groups.

Senate Bill 315 would limit a home to no more than four foster children or a total of six children if the household already includes adopted or biological children under the age of 16. For example, a couple with no other children could foster four children, but if the same couple had three biological or adopted children, they could only foster three additional children.

It includes an exemption for emergency placements of 30 days or less.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who authored the bill, said she submitted the bill after multiple people contacted her wondering why some children were placed in large families despite Kansas Department for Children and Families regulations.

She referenced the case of Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm and his wife Allison Schumm, who had 16 children — four biological — in their home at the time they were charged with child abuse.

“Senate Bill 315 will help children,” she said.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families submitted neutral testimony on the bill. Kasey Rogg, deputy general counsel for DCF, said the department currently has a four-child limit for foster homes but allows for a wider range of exceptions than SB 315. The current regulations allow more flexibility to keep sibling groups together, he said.

“Per this bill as written, when a larger sibling group needs placement, a split of the siblings would be mandatory if the foster parents have the statutorily-limited number of children,” he said in written testimony. “A sibling split can sometimes further traumatize children.”

The 30-day exemption also could encourage more short-term moves, creating additional disruption for foster children, Rogg said.

Under the current process, the social worker must document the reason for the exemption, additional supports the child placement agency could provide to the family, whether additional monitoring of the home is necessary, the ages and genders of children who would share rooms, the home’s square footage and whether other placements might better serve the child, Rogg said.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said he supported the bill but would like to see existing families exempted so children wouldn’t have to leave families where they are placed now. Faust-Goudeau said she would be open to maintaining some “flexibility” in placement decisions. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, said families vary in the number of children they are prepared to raise.

“I appreciate the senator’s good intentions, but there are many, many families that have more than four children,” she said.

DCF officials weren’t certain of the number of families that exceed the child placement limits. Questions about the number of children that should be placed in a foster home surfaced after the Schumms were charged in November 2015 with one count each of aggravated battery, with an alternative count of child abuse.

Allison Schumm’s blog, The Schumm Explosion, described her desire to keep children together with their siblings because one of her adopted siblings had been separated from a biological sister and two brothers, and experienced “pain and turmoil.” The blog post said during a training session for prospective foster and adoptive parents, the Schumms said they would adopt as many children “as God would provide.”

The Schumms eventually adopted two groups of five siblings, in addition to having five biological children, one of whom was born after the abuse charges were filed. They also had two foster children at the time the charges were filed.

Allison Schumm mostly portrayed her large family in positive terms but also described being overwhelmed. In an April 2013 blog post, she wrote about her sadness that other people didn’t understand the decision to raise so many children.

“I know I have my moments when I can’t wait for Jonathan to get home so that I can go hide in my room, but it’s not because I don’t want to be around my children, it’s because sometimes 14 of them can become a bit overwhelming at times,” she said. “Its (sic) just nice to know that I can get a small break and that they for the most part all love each other and that they aren’t going to kill one another.”

Megan Hart is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach her on Twitter @meganhartMC