The child welfare system in Kansas is harming the very children it is charged with protecting according to a new federal class action lawsuit filed last month. The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) along with Kansas Appleseed, attorney Lori Burns-Bucklew, and Children’s Rights filed the suit on behalf of the approximately 7,600 children who are currently or will be placed in the state’s foster care system.
This lawsuit addresses two fundamental systemic failures. 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 to needless moves, often more than fifteen or twenty placements; some children even move more than fifty or one hundred times during their time in foster care. Alarmingly, the Kanas Department for Children and Families (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 a 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’s inability to provide safe, appropriate and stable housing for the children in its care, is the worst placement crisis NCYL has seen in 40 years of doing this work. The haphazard system of housing placements, combined with chronic DCF understaffing, results in minimal oversight and monitoring leading to children being placed in settings where they have been sexually assaulted, and sex trafficked.
Instead of resolving the housing shortage, DCF has created workarounds like having youth sleep in offices and arranging for showers at the local YMCA, which maintains extreme placement instability as the status quo.
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.
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.