National Center for Youth Law

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Extreme Housing Instability and Lack of Mental Health Services Endanger Children in Kansas Foster Care, New Suit Charges
Kids Moved So Often They Are Effectively Homeless While Deprived of Necessary Mental Health Treatment, “As Kansans We Should Be Ashamed and Outraged”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 16, 2018
Contact: Lewis Cohen, lcohen@youthlaw.org, (510)8996561

 

(KANSAS CITY, KANSAS) – Children in Kansas foster care face extreme housing instability—sometimes moved more than 50 or 100 times—and are deprived of critical mental health assessments and services according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed today.

Kansas state officials have long failed to protect children in state custody from harm. The suit, M.B. v. Colyer, was filed by Kansas Appleseed, attorney Lori Burns-Bucklew, the National Center for Youth Law, and Children’s Rights on behalf of the approximately 7,600 children who are currently or will be placed in the state’s foster care system. Named as defendants are Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer and officials responsible for the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF); the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE); and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS).

Children in Kansas foster care are subjected to such extreme housing instability they are rendered effectively homeless while in state custody, the lawsuit alleges. Shuttled from one emergency placement to the next up to 20, 50, even more than 100 times, they are often housed “night to night” in homes or facilities with little more than the clothes on their back and dropped off at an agency office the next morning, only to repeat the same cycle for days, weeks or months at a time.

Children facing extreme housing instability are at a heightened risk for abuse. In one case, a 13-year-old girl in foster care in Olathe, Kansas, was allegedly raped when she was forced to sleep in a child welfare agency office overnight in May 2018. Furthermore, while subjected to this extreme “churning” practice, children often miss school, some run away, and some even fall victim to child sex trafficking. The complaint argues that housing instability also causes direct physical harm to children’s normal brain development and central nervous system.

In addition to this lack of stable housing, the state fails to provide children in foster care with needed mental health screening and services. By definition, all children entering foster care have suffered the known trauma of being removed from their homes. But 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 healthcare they require. The housing and mental health service problems are made worse by excessive workloads and turnover that prevent caseworkers from providing necessary supports, DCF’s lack of direct oversight over its private contract providers, and the absence of basic data and tracking of children’s needs and services.

The disturbing experiences of several named plaintiffs in Kansas foster care are highlighted in the complaint:

  • B. and S.E., brothers ages seven and nine respectively, entered DCF custody together in 2017 but were immediately separated and subjected to night-to-night placements. After four months in 2018 together in the same foster home, the foster parent was unable to support them because mental health services were not provided. DCF once again separated the brothers and continues to subject them to a string of night-to-night placements.
  • M., a 13-year-old boy in state custody for six years who DCF has moved more than 130 times among different placements, including foster homes, group homes and other facilities and night-to-night placements. Although R.M. was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions while in DCF, his treatment has been delayed and disrupted, in part because of how often DCF has moved him around.
  • L., a 17-year-old girl who entered foster care at approximately age 6 and was eventually adopted along with her sister; M.L. and her sister were repeatedly sexually assaulted by their adoptive foster father but stayed in that home for three years before re-entering DCF custody. Since then, DCF has moved M.L. more than 42 times and has forced her to sleep in agency offices, once for an entire week. Despite being diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder, M.L. has not received consistent medically necessary mental health treatment. She has run away on several occasions and been the victim of sex trafficking.

“It’s both heartbreaking and unlawful. After the trauma of removing kids from their homes, the state is depriving these children of any semblance of stability and at the same time denying them mental health services,” said Ira Lustbader, Litigation Director at Children’s Rights.

“This is the worst crisis, both in terms of housing instability and denial of mental health support, that we’ve seen in decades of doing this work,” said Leecia Welch, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy & Child Welfare at the National Center for Youth Law.

“As Kansans, we should be ashamed and outraged that our own state government is harming our most vulnerable children this way,” said Benet Magnuson, Executive Director at Kansas Appleseed. “The problems have become too dangerous and too entrenched that we believe this lawsuit is necessary to protect our children.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek to compel system-wide changes to prevent ongoing harms, and risks of harm, to themselves and other foster children in DCF custody.”

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About National Center for Youth Law: The National Center for Youth Law is a nonprofit law firm that helps low-income children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them. For more information, please visit www.youthlaw.org.

About Kansas Appleseed: Kansas Appleseed is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization dedicated to vulnerable and excluded Kansans. Investigating social, economic, and political injustice, Kansas Appleseed champions laws and policies that support vulnerable and excluded Kansans in order to build a state full of thriving, inclusive, and just communities and work toward systemic solutions. For more information please visit www.kansasappleseed.org.

About Children’s Rights: Fighting to transform America’s failing child welfare, juvenile justice, education and healthcare systems is one of the most important social justice movements of our time. Through strategic advocacy and legal action, Children’s Rights holds state governments accountable to America’s most vulnerable children. A national watchdog organization since 1995, Children’s Rights fights to protect and defend the rights of young people, because we believe that children have the right to the best possible futures. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.