More Kansas children added to class-action lawsuit against DCF

A class-action lawsuit intensifies against the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Advocacy group Kansas Appleseed filed a lawsuit in the fall of 2018. Recently, it has amended its lawsuit, saying kids continue to be neglected by the state. 

“It's really amazingly bad,” said Teresa Woody, an attorney for Kansas Appleseed. She’s one of 10 attorneys guiding this case. “I think the night-to-night placements haven't changed. The kids, who are not going to school, who are being housed in offices during the day — that's still continuing.”

NEW CHILDREN ADDED TO LAWSUIT

Advocates say kids in state custody are victims of extreme housing disruption. Four children have been added to the lawsuit: 

  • A child, known as E.B., is 7 years old. Kansas Appleseed said he “has been subjected to extreme housing disruption, moved 35 times since April 2018, and often forced to spend his days in the KVC contract agency offices between night-to-night placements. He is not receiving adequate services to meet identified mental health treatment needs.”
  • A 17-year-old girl, R.R., has been moved to more than 100 placements in nearly three years in DCF custody. The amendment to the suit said she’s had night-to-night and short-term placements and overnight stays at a KVC office. “While placed in a group home in which she was the only girl, R.R. was subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse when left unattended in the TV room, resulting in an extreme deterioration in her mental health,” Kansas Appleseed claims.
  • M.A., a 12-year-old boy, has been in foster care for six years. “From January 2017 to the present, M.A. has been moved at least 62 times, including 16 placements since March 2019,” Kansas Appleseed states. “Though diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive mood regulation disorder and anxiety, M.A. has not received adequate or consistent mental health services while in care.”
  • J.P. is 10 years old and has not lived in a single home for more than six months since entering care in 2016. The girl has been moved through 21 placements. The suit shows that she’s changed schools several times and, at times, has not attended school at all.

PLACEMENT, MENTAL HEALTH INSTABILITY

“These kids have so much instability in their lives. They're not going to school. They're not getting mental health treatment that they need,” Woody said. “It's very sad.”

Several people and organizations are working on this case, including Children's Rights, the National Center for Youth Law, DLA Piper LLP and Lori Burns-Bucklew, an attorney and certified child welfare specialist.  Kansas Appleseed fears the constant moving and lack care will only fuel the challenges for the 7,500 children in Kansas foster care. Woody said it can be traumatic for kids’ mental health, especially if they move frequently. 

From July 2018 to June 2019, the advocacy group claims children are in a new placement every three months for more than 2.5 years — a rate that’s more than double the recommended maximum.

“If they move constantly, what's happening is they're then going back to the back of the line,” Woody said. “Kids who have serious problems are not having them addressed. They're not even, you know, getting assessed, let alone treated. So, it's a big problem of a very big problem with the lack of mental health treatment and assessment.”

Larry Rute, a lawyer for Kansas Appleseed, said he’d like to see multiple improvements to the system, including more foster care facilities, better training for foster parents, more social workers and more staff to track children who run way. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claims one in seven endangered runaways ends in the hands of a sex trafficker.

“When kids run away, they're subject to all sorts of abuses, including human trafficking, it's extremely difficult problem,” Rute said. “We want to want the state to get its arms around — the state has the responsibility here, the state has the regulatory administrative, statutory constitutional authority to fix this problem, and the state can and should do so.”

STATE’S RESPONSE TO SUIT

KAKE News reached out to Gov. Laura Kelly’s office for comment and have not heard back. We also reached out to DCF for comment on the case. They shared this statement:

“The Kansas Department for Children and Families does not comment on pending litigation. However, the agency is committed to improving outcomes including strengthening families, reducing the length of stay in foster care and implementing evidence-based practices to engage families and placement stability.” 

“Among other initiatives, during the past eight months the agency has worked to transition to new family preservation and foster care grants, institute the Family First Prevention Act and establish new practice models like Team Decision Making,” DCF continued. “DCF believes these improvements can endure at a systemic level and we are confident that these changes put the agency on a trajectory toward a stronger system for Kansas children and families.”

This year, DCF launched a Youth Recovery Report. It documents a current list of verified runaways, recovered youth, what agency they’re associated with and the child’s age. As of this September, 460 youth have been recovered in 2019 — some of those may be the same child, multiple times. At least 22 were recovered in September. 

Also, as shared in a prior report at KAKE News, the department has staff members designated to track kids in the system. If a child runs away, they work with law enforcement agencies to help track the children. 

A LOOK AT THE FUTURE

“We’re hopeful that this administration will be more focused on that on improving the system,” Woody said. “Unfortunately, we haven't seen any real improvement for these kids on a day-to-day basis at this point in time.”

“Well, the proof will be in the pudding,” Rute echoed. “If we can have quality foster care placements, with quality foster parents properly trained to cut down on this incredible problem of insecure placements for the kids, and the lack of medical and mental health treatment for kids — that will go a long way.”

Kansas Appleseed and the state plan to have a mediation session this October.

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

MORE SLIDESHOWS HERE