TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas is removing significantly more children from homes where a parent is abusing drugs than it did five years ago, particularly when a parent uses methamphetamines, the state’s child welfare agency reported Tuesday.
The Department for Children and Families report for a legislative task force said there were 42 percent more cases in which substance abuse was a contributing factor for a child’s removal during the fiscal year that ended June 30 than there were five years ago. The number of cases involving meth more than doubled during the same period.
The department released the data amid questions from the task force about why the state has seen a steady increase in the number of children in foster care in recent years. Some legislators blame tougher rules for recipients of state cash assistance, but department officials said their internal data suggests little connection.
DCF officials also faced questions Tuesday about allegations from a former supervisor who told The Kansas City Star that she was directed in 2014 to shred notes from meetings in which a child’s death was discussed. The department said the supervisor’s description of the policy was “not accurate” and that employees were told to keep personal notes out of case files so they contained only “facts/observations.”
The department and the state’s services for abused and neglected children have come under increasing scrutiny following high-profile child deaths in recent years and a scathing state audit last year that said the state’s foster care system put children at risk. DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore plans to retire Dec. 1.
“A lot of things are broken in a lot of places,” said Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat and a task force member.
The department’s statistics show that Kansas had almost 7,200 foster children placed outside their homes at the end of June, or 36 percent more than the 5,300 at the end of June 2012.
The number of children removed from homes when substance abuse was a contributing factor grew to 1,852 during the state’s 2017 fiscal year, compared with 1,302 for fiscal year 2012. The number of cases involving meth jumped to 796 from 397, while the number of cases involving alcohol abuse dropped to less than 200.
Several task force members said they believe the state has yet to see the full effects of the nation’s epidemic of opioid abuse and the numbers raise questions about whether the state has enough drug abuse treatment programs.
“We are in a substance abuse crisis,” said Wyandotte County District Judge Daniel Cahill, a task force member. “The number of people who are impaired to the point where they can’t function as parents is growing.”
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