In the wake of rape charge filed in an attack on a 13-year-old girl in the office of a foster care contractor, Kansas lawmakers said Tuesday they’ll investigate what went wrong.
One legislator said state officials and the contractor responsible for watching over the alleged victim will face tough questions later this month.
The case is the latest crisis for a foster care system dogged by criticism in recent years, including the disclosure that kids have had to sleep in the offices of foster care contractors because of a lack of available homes for them.
Now comes the rape case that prosecutors say happened in May in the Johnson County office of KVC Kansas.
KVC said in a statement that one supervisor was overseeing the alleged attacker, the girl who reported the rape and one other young person. That supervisor stepped out of the room for several minutes to get supplies, the contractor said. When the staff member returned, KVC said, the girl said she had been assaulted by an 18-year-old male.
Johnson County authorities have charged Michael Anthony Hamer with rape and indecent liberties.
Republican Rep. Linda Gallagher called the reported sexual assault shocking and disheartening.
“One of the most important things the state must do is to take care of its most vulnerable citizens,” said Gallagher, who is a member of the state’s Child Welfare System Task Force. “We have most certainly failed in that measure.”
Legislators will be investigating, she said. That process will likely start at a meeting of the task force later this month. Gallagher expects pointed questions for Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel and KVC Kansas staff.
“Where did the ball get dropped, on the part of KVC, their employees?” she asked. “Where did the ball get dropped, if any, on the part of DCF to oversee this contractor?”
Gallagher said lawmakers will need to gather information before they can respond. That could come during the next legislative session, which starts in January. Gallagher said she would back more funding for better crisis care centers equipped to serve children on short notice.
KVC Kansas said in a statement that a lapse in judgment by the worker left the three young people unsupervised.
“We deeply regret that there was any opportunity — even for a brief moment, as was the case here — for such a tragedy to occur,” the statement reads.
KVC spokeswoman Jenny Kutz said that the worker in question is no longer with the organization and that the contractor has reiterated staffing rules so employees know that children must be supervised at all times.
“We’re doing everything in our power to keep kids safe. We’re confident that we’ve put all the proper guidelines in place that are intended to prevent this from happening again,” she said in an email response to questions from the Kansas News Service.
The agency is holding the contractor responsible, DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said in an email.
“KVC Kansas was cited for regulatory violations and appropriate action was taken,” Forrest said, without specifying the action.
DCF investigated the incident, Forrest said. Her email also noted that the employee in charge during the reported rape is no longer with the organization.
“Through a corrective action plan, investigation and conversations with KVC leadership, DCF has worked extensively with KVC to ensure the safety and security of Kansas youth,” Forrest’s email said.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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