How Did 70-Plus Children Go Missing From The Kansas Foster Care System?

dcf71 By The Kansas City Star editorial board

OCTOBER 11, 2017 6:44 PM

If the state of Kansas were parents, we’d report them for neglect. The state is responsible for about 7,000 children through the foster care system. The Kansas Department for Children and Families can’t account for more than 70 children in foster care. What, exactly, is the state doing to find them? And in fact, Kansas has been neglectful. The state doesn’t know where more than 70 children in foster care ate their last meal or even if they’re safe. The state can’t tell you where all of these children sleep each night. Three foster children, sisters ages 12 to 15, went missing in late August from the Tonganoxie home of their great aunt, who had custody of the girls. Media was alerted when Tonganoxie police posted on their Facebook page, seeking information from the public.

It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize the dangers that might be lurking for those girls. Consider what type of person would be willing to offer them a meal or a place to sleep while not alerting authorities.

To plead its side of this sad story, the Kansas Department for Children and Families on Wednesday released its protocols, guidelines for case managers to follow when a child goes missing or is abducted.

Certainly, step one is to have such measures in place.

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But they are ineffective if the state department doesn’t ensure that such guidelines are consistently followed. And that remains an unanswered question.

Research suggests that children who run away from foster care are more likely to do it again. It also notes that simply developing such policies may not be sufficient. Training is necessary to identify warning signs that could help officials flag children who are likely to run away. Those youth and their caregivers need extra support.

Children in foster care are twice as likely as other children to run away. Studies have found about 1 to 2 percent of children in foster care will run from a kinship arrangement with an extended family member that has been coordinated by the state, from a foster home or a care facility.

The number of unaccounted for foster children in Kansas fits within national averages. Yet that reality check doesn’t make this problem any less urgent.

In a statement, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore seemed to request leniency as she offered a vague defense. “We work closely with our foster care contractors, law enforcement, the school system and affected families to locate missing children as quickly as possible,” she said.

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