A new law in Kansas requires children who sexually abuse other children to be referred to a treatment program. Although the legislation is a welcome step to ensure children get the support they need, there is a gap in evidence-based services to serve these children.
More work is needed to ensure children can be referred to professionals equipped to treat them.
The Department for Children and Families estimates the new legislation would require approximately 3,264 children a year to be referred. However, only two organizations in Kansas, one Kansas City and one Wichita, plus another program across the state line in Kansas City, Mo., provide evidence-based treatment for children with problematic sexual behavior.
Such interventions are different than those for adults who are sexual offenders. Children who act out in sexually inappropriate ways have often experienced sexual abuse and trauma, and are unlikely to offend again if offered appropriate treatment. Children too far from one of the dedicated programs may be referred to private counseling or other organizations — some of which may be providing excellent treatment — but there is little doubt that a significant gap in services exists for children throughout Kansas.
A model exists in Kansas for creating such programs.
Only a decade ago, a similar service gap existed for domestic violence offenders. Following domestic battery convictions, domestic abusers were often court-ordered to complete some kind of counseling, but the effectiveness of that counseling varied enormously. Private counseling, anger management programs and batterer’s intervention programs, operating under vastly different standards across the state, formed an uneven patchwork of interventions.
Under the leadership of the attorney general’s office, domestic violence and criminal justice professionals developed the Essential Elements and Standards of Batterer Intervention Programs in Kansas, a uniform standard for such programs. State legislation empowered the agency to train and certify Batterer’s Intervention Programs. Today, a network of 34 service providers are certified to provide batterer’s intervention services, serving nearly every judicial district in Kansas.
More work is needed to fund and support these programs, but leadership from Attorney General Derek Schmidt has generated an impressive leap forward in offender accountability and victim safety.
Serving children who have been exposed to trauma is extraordinarily complex work. The professionals in our state serving these children need our full support to ensure every child can get the care he or she needs.