TOPEKA, Kan. — Nearly 100 foster children in Kansas have stayed overnight in the offices of contractors who administer the state’s foster care system because no foster homes are available, state contractors told a meeting of the state’s Child Welfare Task Force on Tuesday.
Representatives of KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Community Services said since the beginning of the year, 98 children had to spend a night in their offices after they were removed from their families but a foster care home couldn’t be found immediately.
Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the agency was working to increase the number of foster care homes available for children.
“Obviously we do not want that to ever happen, and we are sorry as we’re addressing it in many ways,” Gilmore said.
The past year is the first time the contractors have ever kept children overnight in offices, the organizations say.
Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance, said the capacity of the child welfare system concerned her.
“The fact that we can’t find placements really shows that we have to address the number of kids coming into the system and we have to address the number of kids coming out of the system,” Appelhanz said.
Many of the children who stayed overnight in contractors’ offices have psychiatric issues or have run away, according to the contractors. Some of the children also are waiting to be placed in a psychiatric residential treatment facility. The state used to have 11 such facilities but now has only eight, Appelhanz said.
Gilmore said a juvenile justice reform bill passed last year brought more children with behavioral problems into foster care because it was designed to reduce the number of children in juvenile detention centers.
Marilyn Jacobson, the chief financial officer and general counsel for KVC Health Systems, said the lack of homes is a long-standing issue, particularly for children removed after late-night family disputes or those who ran away. She said she didn’t think the problem would ever by completely solved.
In April, a state audit found that Kansas has enough open beds statewide to accommodate foster children but that 40 Kansas counties did not have enough beds to accommodate children needing placement. Many counties don’t have enough licensed foster homes, the audit found.
As of June 2016, more than 550 children in foster care were in homes more than 100 miles from the homes they were taken from, according to the audit.