Old Wichita Convent Offers New Home To Kansas Foster Kids Setting Out On Their Own

Jun 14, 2018
Originally published on June 15, 2018 12:25 pm

Teenage girls aging out of foster care in Kansas will soon have a new place to stay and learn the basics of living independently — with the help of some nuns.

St. Francis Community Services, one of the state’s two foster care contractors, is taking over the former convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph in Wichita to house foster care, refugee and behavioral health programs.

Those nuns will stick around, though — volunteering at a Head Start program that’s scheduled to start up in September and working with the girls living onsite to wrap up education requirements, start job searches and master the basics of independent living. 

The Sisters offered their space to St. Francis about a year ago after they moved to a new building on the same property. Catholic Charities Wichita, which had also rented space in the building, also prepared to relocate.

Trish Bryant, vice president for children and family services at St. Francis, said the contractor started meeting with child welfare experts and other partners to decide what to do with the building. One of the glaring needs that kept coming up, she said, was a transitional space for older foster youth.

More than 200 people who were formerly in foster care are currently homeless in Wichita. St. Francis chief operating officer Tom Blythe said the goal is to identify kids before they age out and help them learn the basics of managing work, a home and a bank account before they leave state custody.

St. Francis plans to open 14 beds to girls in February. The space will be licensed as a youth residential center, meaning it will provide behavioral health services and 24-hour supervision. Youth residential denters separate kids by gender. With the sisters around to act as mentors, Blythe said it made sense to make the facility girls-only.

Most of the girls will be 17 to 18, and St. Francis is expecting stays of roughly nine months to a year, Bryant said.

Blythe said the new youth center will indirectly help ease the problem of kids sleeping in St. Francis offices. Teenagers are some of the hardest kids to place in foster homes, and are more likely to end up sleeping in offices. Offering beds for 14 teenage girls will free up 14 beds for older kids within the existing system, hopefully taking them out of short-term placements.

St. Francis Migration Ministries moved over to the new building in May, followed by administrative offices earlier this month. The contractor’s care center, which manages foster care placements, will follow in early July. An independent living facility for girls who have already aged out of foster care will open up in January 2020.

In the meantime, Bryant said, the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph are looking forward to seeing a lot of life in their old home.

“The sisters are excited that there’s going to be kids, and youth, and all that joyous noise,” he said.

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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