National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

M.B. v. Colyer

Kansas’s child welfare system is failing to protect the safety and well-being of foster children and youth in the custody of the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). This lawsuit addresses two fundamental systemic failures creating this danger.

First, Kanas lacks adequate housing for children in the state’s care, leaving these children vulnerable to severe housing disruptions also known as “churning”. This subjects foster children  in DCF custody to needless moves from placement to placement, often more than fifteen or twenty moves, and some children even move more than fifty or one hundred times. Alarmingly, DCF frequently subjects children to “night-to-night” or short-term placements. In a repetitive, destabilizing cycle, children are regularly forced to sleep for a night or several nights anywhere a bed, couch, office conference room, shelter or hospital can be found. For days, weeks, or even months at time, they spend their nights in these short-term placements and their days in agency offices waiting to find out where they will sleep next, only to repeat the same cycle again. DCF’s practice of extreme housing disruption inherently deprives children of basic shelter and effectively renders them homeless while in state custody.

Kansas also fails to provide children in DCF custody with mental health and behavioral health screening, diagnostic services, and treatment, including trauma-related screening and diagnostic services. The failure to provide mental health services mandated by the federal Medicaid statute causes, and risks causing, profound emotional and psychological harm to children in foster care. All children entering foster care in Kansas have suffered the known trauma of removal from their homes, and thousands of children in DCF custody have identified mental health needs and disorders at any given time. Yet, known shortages, delays, and waitlists for mental health services and treatment, including administrative barriers to prompt and sustained service delivery, continue to result in children being deprived of the mental health care they require.