Kansas Department for Children and Families

Holes punched in walls. Car headlights smashed. Windows broken. Weapons, threats, sexual comments. Children who can’t live with other children. Children whom foster parents won’t take in. Children who aren’t able to get the mental health care they desperately need.

Kansas foster care contractors and parents say all of these situations have become more common — and more risky — since 2017, when the state made sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system. The changes, they say, removed options for dealing with foster children who have high needs and violent behaviors.

Updated Nov. 15 with statement from the governor: Attorneys for Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly have asked a federal court to remove her from a class-action lawsuit over the state’s troubled foster care program, arguing that she doesn’t actually oversee the system.

The move comes as parents and advocates say that the system continues to traumatize the thousands of children in its care.

From cries of heartbreak to a call for the prosecution of men who pay for sex with girls, Kansas lawmakers said the story of Hope Zeferjohn, a teen victim of sex-trafficking who was prosecuted for sex crimes, focuses a harsh light on a state system that is supposed to protect children.

At first, they wanted to save her.

Then, after she fled the Kansas foster care system at age 16 and fell victim to the commercial sex trade, social workers told her she was going to prison forever.

"When I went into foster care and they wanted to take me away from my family, I ran," she said. "I ran away, and that's how I really started to get into all of this trouble. After I ran away, that's when they started treating me like, 'Oh, you're a suspect and you're not innocent.'

Evan Pflugradt / KMUW/File photo

The president of the company that formerly ran a literacy program for Kansas' public elementary schools alleged Monday that the state canceled the multimillion-dollar grant in "retaliation" for the firm's opposition to major changes state officials were seeking.

The state of Kansas is canceling a contract that administered an elementary-school reading program because of what state officials call inappropriate spending on travel and salaries. 

The contractor disputes any mishandling of the money, which in recent years amounted to nearly $10 million routed from a program meant to serve needy families. 

Kansas' child welfare agency has drafted guidelines urging foster parents to allow LGBTQ kids in their care to "express themselves as they see themselves," riling conservatives a little more than a year after the state granted legal protections to faith-based adoption agencies that do not place children in LGBTQ homes.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service/File photo

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday dropped a policy that allowed several thousand Kansas adults to keep receiving food assistance after failing to meet a work requirement, reversing course days after the state's Republican attorney general threatened to file a lawsuit.

Overflowing rivers and reservoirs across Kansas are already producing significant flooding, particularly in the southeast corner of the state.

But, forecasters say, things could get much worse over the next several days as slow-moving thunderstorms develop over central and northeast Kansas.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor/File photo

Abused and neglected children are again sleeping overnight in the offices of Kansas foster care contractors because homes cannot be found for them quickly enough.

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