An open house was held Monday for the new Finney County Children’s Shelter, an option aside from foster care for placement of minors who are removed from a bad situation.

Katrina Pollet, executive director of the Finney County Department of Correction and Juvenile Detention Center, said the process to refurbish and repurpose part of the existing Finney County JDC over the past year was necessary to help minors.

After a children’s shelter was closed last year in Hays, children were being sent across the state to Wichita or Kansas City, Pollet said.

Being taken so far away isn’t the best situation, Pollet said. It means children can’t visit with families and they are taken away from their school, doctors and everything they know.

It’s important for children to be closer to home, Pollet said.

“Now, instead of them ending all the way across the state they can stay right here and are able to go to school and we can work on those family issues with them,” she said. “As a licensed social worker myself, it’s really important for me that we work on getting them back home if home is going to be a viable option for them.”

Helping the children was the department’s dream, she said.

Pollet said the creation of the FCCS came after a Senate bill was passed in 2016 that caused few youths to go to juvenile detention centers.

Because of the reduced numbers, it meant that the JDCs had to either close or figure out another way to survive.

The JDC in Finney County was the only one in western Kansas, Pollet said, and it needed to find a way to stay so children didn’t have to be driven to a JDC as far away as Wichita or Junction City.

So, Pollet said, the Corrections Department spoke to the state about what the bill was doing to western Kansas, and because JDCs are so few and far between, the state created a grant for it to retrofit part of the JDC into a children’s shelter.

“We were able to get $504,000 from the state to be able to create this shelter that is so badly needed in western Kansas,” she said.

The FCCS has 14 shelter beds, seven for boys and seven for girls, and six or them are designated specifically for children in protective custody, Pollet said. Officials are focusing on taking in children between the ages of 14 and 17.

“They’re so hard to place,” she said. “Everybody will take a baby, but very few people will take a 15-year-old.”

Southwest Kansas Regional JDC deputy director Carlos Murillo said it’s difficult to place teenagers in foster care because they are perceived as “rambunctious, they don’t listen and sometimes set in their ways.”

It’s important that shelters like this exist for children and teenagers, Pollet said. She’s happy the facility will be available to help provide a safe space for minors.

Finney County interim county administrator Robert Reece is glad the FCCS is here.

“It's a great transitional phase for kids that are really trying to get their feet underneath them as opposed to the detention part of it,” he said. “It will serve the public for a long time.”

Murillo is also pleased the FCCS is now a viable place for minors to be relocated.

“This means we can provide services to juveniles that need it and give them a place to stay that’s safe where they can be cared for and they can relax instead of worrying about what’s going to happen to them or how court’s going to go,” he said. “They know if they come here they can be safe and taken care of.”

Murillo said they hope to open the FCCS by the end of the month.