Topeka, KS — A shocking report out of Kansas highlights an extreme disconnect between government -- the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF), which oversees foster care in the state, and the private foster care contractors that the state utilizes to place foster children and oversee their direct placement within foster homes.
There are at least 70 missing foster kids missing in Kansas, according to information provided by foster care contractors during a legislative oversight panel hearing this week. The information was provided as part of a response to questions related to the case of three missing sisters – ages 12, 14 and 15 – who went missing in August, and police believe ran away.
KVC Kansas, one of the foster care contractors, said it has roughly 38 missing children. The other company, Saint Francis Community Services, said 36 in its system are missing, according to KAKE.
Sen. Laura Kelly told the Child Welfare System Task Force that she was “flabbergasted” after contacting the Kansas DCF about the sisters’ disappearance from a northeast Kansas foster home – after incredibly, Secretary of Kansas DCF, Phyllis Gilmore, told Sen. Kelly that they knew nothing about the missing girls.
Gilmore admitted not knowing about the case, Kelly said, adding that the Gilmore is not simply the head of Kansas DCF, but, also "custodian of these children and she should have known."
Although legislators expressed dismay over the missing foster kids, Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer at KVC Kansas, told the task force that the number of missing kids in Kansas represented about 1 percent of the foster care population – which is on par with the national average.
Anderson acknowledged that private contractors were not fulfilling their obligations as “custodian(s)” of the foster kids.
"I don't know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should," Anderson said.
Recommended for You
According to a report by TIME:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that during the federal government's 2015 fiscal year, about 4,600 children in foster care were listed as runaways, or 1.1 percent of the nearly 428,000 total. Kansas had almost 7,100 children in foster care in August, so the number of those missing is about 1 percent.
Gilmore said that while she couldn’t comment on the missing sisters’, in many cases, foster children simply go back to their own biological families or with other people they have a significant relationship.
"So it isn't always a tragedy, but some certainly can be and that's why we have to take it all very seriously," Gilmore said, according to KAKE. Sen. Kelly disagreed with her assessment, noting "that's not good" since they were initially removed from the home for a serious reason.
Chairman of the task force, Rep. Steve Alford, said after the meeting he wasn't really surprised and noted the broken nature of the foster system.
"There's a break between DCF and the contracting," Rep. Alford said. "Once the children ... (go from the court) into the possession of the secretary, she hands them off to the contractors and it's their responsibility, you know, it's kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of aspects."
The Child Welfare System Task Force was set up in 2016 as a means of trying to make the agency more effective in handling abuse and neglect cases, and in protecting children.
Hopefully, the fact that task force chairman Alford clearly recognizes the systemic failure of the foster care system will precipitate a change in daily operations and protocols. There should be no breakdown in communication between the state (DCF), and their hired proxies in the private foster care industry when it comes to a missing child.
The fact that vulnerable kids are being treated with an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude speaks to the systemic failure within Kansas’ state-private foster care system.
If these kids are slipping through the cracks, and virtually nobody in a position of stewardship seems to take responsibility or care, is the system really built to help these kids at all -- or is it simply another case of crony capitalism, similar to the private prison industry?