Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
Kansas officials plan to cut down on foster placements
The Kansas Department for Children and Families will work to stop unnecessary foster care placements. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
KANSAS CITY — The Kansas Department for Children and Families will work to reduce unnecessary foster care placements, said DCF Secretary Laura Howard, expressing optimism about new funding measures and legislation.
“This was a strong legislative session in terms of child welfare,” Howard said Wednesday.
“Certainly the foster child and foster parent bill of rights were important pieces of legislation that we passed.”
Under the recently enacted foster care bill of rights, children will be told about their right to a stable environment, to experience the least number of placements possible, access adequate clothing and other belongings, conduct family visits, live with family when possible, attend school and participate in court proceedings, among other things.
The legislation is named in honor of Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat and reform advocate who died last year. It also provides foster families and children’s relatives greater access to case information and more of a voice in decisions.
The state budget allocated millions in funding for DCF initiatives, including $6 million for the development of a foster care therapy program in fiscal year 2024.
“We received a lot of support in the budget process for additional resources to support some of the youth that have some of the most intensive needs,” Howard said. “Very, very positive from the budget perspective.”
While more funding will become available, advocates within the system have said better community resources need to be implemented so that fewer youths — especially Black and Indigenous children — will be unnecessarily placed into the foster care system.
Howard was one of several state government employees attending a Wednesday event hosted by the Racial Equity Collaborative, a statewide initiative geared toward spreading awareness of disparities in child welfare and advocating for equity.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said the initiative was a step toward making informed policy decisions.
“This is a good initiative to have and find that model legislation where we bridge that gap and work closely toward race neutrality,” Haley said.
According to a DCF report, almost half of the youths placed in foster care in 2022 were there because they needed better resources, not because of abuse or neglect. About 737 youths ages 14 or older were placed in foster care during the 2022 fiscal year.
Out of these youths, 40%, about 298, were removed from their homes because their families were flagged as needing assessment.
“If we’re not careful, we leave space to disproportionately impact Black and brown children,” said Shanelle Dupree, Kansas City regional director for the department and one of the key speakers at the event.
Becci Akin, a professor with the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, said years of data confirmed that Black children were consistently overrepresented in foster care.
Black children make up about 8.5% of the Kansas child population, but represent about 15.4% of children in the state’s system.
“This isn’t just an anomaly of something happening, just one year, two years,” Akin said. “This is happening as far back as we can see.”
This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.