Kansas Department for Children and Families

The long-troubled foster care system in Kansas got hit with yet another complication over the last year.

Pandemic complications came on top of ongoing fixes mandated by a class-action settlement and simmering pressure to find more homes for children in crisis.

One of the largest private foster care agencies in Kansas has signed a new deal with the state drawn up in the wake of reports of cash shortages and elaborate spending.

The contract amendment requires that Saint Francis Ministries give the Department for Children and Families a new business plan by March 1. The nonprofit will have to report specific information about its income and costs, said DCF secretary Laura Howard.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — When school buildings across Kansas shut down in March, parents and students had to adjust to shorter class times, Zoom sessions and take-home packets.

Meanwhile, families in the foster care system faced extra challenges: keeping up with training sessions, therapy appointments and social worker visits.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — The state of Kansas has settled a class-action lawsuit with attorneys who represent Kansas foster children.

Foster parent Mitzi Monson feels lucky she can stay at home.

Yet since the coronavirus closed schools, Monson has had few breaks from the three children in her care. At least extra money from the state’s foster care agency, awarded since the start of the pandemic, helps pay for groceries.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The same kids who end up in trouble with the law often come from families in disarray.

Those families, in turn, regularly turn to the state for food assistance, foster care or mental health care.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday a plan to form a singular agency — the Kansas Department of Human Services — that would absorb social welfare programs currently handled by three agencies.

The new agency would have a massive statewide presence, employing 6,000 workers, and oversee foster care, mental health services, four state hospitals and the juvenile justice complex. 

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.

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