Children in our state’s foster care system have experienced hardships few adults are capable of truly understanding. No child should be abused or neglected. If children do experience violence, our full resources must ensure their needs are met.
For years, child welfare professionals have raised alarms about the state of children in foster care. Children missing, children sleeping in offices due to a lack of foster homes, and high staff turnover among caseworkers have caused justified concerns.
A new report from the Annie E Casey Foundation offers interesting insights into the Kansas foster care system. The report showed one encouraging finding: Kansas children are more likely to be in family-based foster care placements, as opposed to group homes, than the national average.
However, the report also found that Kansas kids are more likely than others to move from home to home in multiple foster home placements. Nearly half, 45 percent, of teens and young adults transitioning out of foster care in Kansas end up becoming parents before age 21, compared to 31 percent nationally.
The rate of Kansas children entering foster care is also higher than the national average, according to federal data released last week. A 2018 University of Kansas study tied increasing numbers of children in foster care to cutbacks in welfare benefits that support needy families.
In most other areas, Kansas closely follows national trends, which are unfortunately disturbing in terms of outcomes for youth in state care. Foster kids are less likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to be employed and live in stable housing than young adults and teens who are not in foster care.
For Kansans interested in making life better for foster kids, the federal Family First Prevention Services Act provides support services for families trying to prevent foster care placement. The legislation funds support services for families.
Services can include treatment for drug abuse, mental illness and other problems that can be barriers to kids living safely at home. Kansas legislators must accept these federal funds, and meet a 50 percent matching requirement, to begin offering services. They should do so, and search for other innovative programs to help kids at risk.
Another piece of encouraging news was the recent announcement of an $8 million, five-year grant to the KU School of Social Welfare by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant aims to prevent children from being placed in foster care by strengthening families and get children adopted who are already in the system.
The thousands of children in Kansas foster care placements are our children. The people of the state of Kansas have been charged with their care. We have an obligation to provide for them to the best of our ability.