The ongoing battle to keep Kansas kids safe in foster care

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — A lawsuit has been filed against the Department for Children and Families and Governor Laura Kelly that makes claims of neglect and abuse against children in foster care. Now, more children and families are stepping forward with their stories.

Randy Puett is a single dad to a 15-year-old girl. He says his daughter has severe anxiety and ran away from home one day. When she was found, Randy says she had a panic attack in front of the court authorities.

“They didn’t know my child and automatically took it as, ‘this man’s abusive’, and took her away,” said Randy.

His daughter was placed in foster care. Randy said she had no way to shower or wash her clothes and was fed only fast food. She was also not going to school. The court mandated that she receive a mental health screening and medical help which she says she did not receive.

“She was bounced from home to home. She was bullied at one of the homes so she decides, ‘I’m done’, jumps out of a two-story house window to run away,” says Randy.

Randy was never notified that his daughter was missing. Instead, he found out from a friend that she was gone. When he called to check, it was confirmed that his daughter had been missing for nine days.

Randy used his own resources to find his daughter but even after she returned to her father, she was forced to stay with a neighbor until a court could deem Randy safe.

Now, Randy says he wants change.

“Our Governor ran her game on change. This is her house, time for her to change her house,” said Randy.

Governor Kelly was unavailable for an interview but her office provided a statement that says, in part:

“Governor Kelly has made repairing the foster care system a top priority for her Administration, which has already made a number of improvements that put the health and well-being of our kids front and center. There is still much work to be done and her team will continue to repair the neglect that was allowed to fester under the previous administration.”

Read the full statement below

When Randy was read the statement he said, “That’s a lot of talk. I want to see action”.

Both Governor Kelly and DCF were named in a lawsuit filed on behalf of 12 children that allege they experience abuse or neglect while in foster care. Governor Kelly has asked to be dismissed from the lawsuit saying the appropriate parties are already involved.

Kansas Appleseed is a non-profit advocacy group that is overseeing the case. Representatives said they receive daily calls from others with similar stories to Randy’s.

“There are 7600 children in the foster care system right now and the treatment that they have gotten and are getting is grossly insufficient,” says Teresa Woody, Litigation Director with Kansas Appleseed.

Teresa says the children allege that they were frequently moved from home to home at all hours of the day or night. One child in the suit says they moved more than 100 times while in foster care. Some children are even made to sleep in DCF offices overnight. Many also say they were not given the opportunity to shower regularly, they were fed unhealthy food, didn’t go to school and sometimes much worse.

“A 13-year-old was sexually assaulted by a 17-year-old when they were both sleeping in an office overnight,” said Teresa. “I mean, those are the kinds of things we are hearing and there are just thousands of those stories.”

Teresa said the lawsuit is meant to bring change.

“All of these things are happening to thousands of kids and the goal of this lawsuit is to stop those practices and have best practices implemented for these children in the system,” she adds.

Randy has created his own movement, starting a Facebook group called “Kansas Kids Matter” where people can share their stories. He has also organized protests against DCF at the Capitol building in Topeka. He says if people really want change, they need to reach out to their legislators.

“Wake these people up in here, because it’s the kids and their future that are paying,” he said.

DCF was not able to do an interview due to this being an ongoing legal case. However, they did provide a written statement that says, in part:

“The agency is committed to improving outcomes including strengthening families, reducing the length of stay in foster care and implementing evidence-based practices to engage families and placement stability.”

Read the full statement below

DCF says it is not taking these issues lightly. This week DCF held a training called ‘Family Finding,’ with a goal of teaching both DCF employees as well as partnering agencies, how to connect children with family members instead of placing them in foster homes. DCF says this will help provide stability for kids and potentially prevent trauma early in life.

“The more we can protect early childhood experiences, the greater store of resilience is built and the better chance young people have of living a good, healthy life,” says Kevin Campbell, the model author of the Family Finding method.

DCF says the new method will be rolled out to agencies across the state over the coming year.

Read the full statement from Governor Kelly’s office below:

“Governor Kelly has made repairing the foster care system a top priority for her Administration, which has already made a number of improvements that put the health and well-being of our kids front and center. There is still much work to be done and her team will continue to repair the neglect that was allowed to fester under the previous administration. To that end, when cases like this are filed, it is important to have the appropriate parties involved. Asking the court to dismiss a governor from lawsuits such as this is routine when the lawsuit already involves state agencies. The request ensures that the appropriate parties are engaged in the lawsuit and that costly delays can be avoided. For her part, Governor Kelly will continue to fight for Kansas children—as she always has—and will work with lawmakers to fix the foster care system in our state.

The office of Governor Laura Kelly
November 15, 2019

Read the full statement from DCF below:

“The Kansas Department for Children and Families does not comment on pending litigation. However, the agency is committed to improving outcomes including strengthening families, reducing the length of stay in foster care and implementing evidence-based practices to engage families and placement stability. Among other initiatives, during the past ten months the agency has worked to transition to new family preservation and foster care grants, institute the Family First Prevention Act and establish new practice models like Team Decision Making. DCF believes these improvements can endure at a systemic level and we are confident that these changes put the agency on a trajectory toward a stronger system for Kansas children and families.”

Mike Deines, Director of Communications, Department for Children and Families
November 14, 2019

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