Category Archives: Child welfare

Review state standard on child abuse

When a Kansas policy is out of step with all other states, it merits further review – particularly when it involves child abuse. As an Eagle news article reported last Sunday, Kansas is the only state in the country that requires clear and convincing evidence of child abuse or neglect before someone can be put on a state registry that bans him or her from living, working or regularly volunteering in a state-regulated child-care facility – including foster homes. Other states have a lower burden of proof. Kansas raised its standard in 2004 to be more consistent with state law. But 10 years of being it place, it is a good time to review the law to see if the higher standard is still appropriate or if it is putting children at risk and should be lowered.

DCF also deserves rebuke in Henderson case

gavelSedgwick County District Court Judge Timothy Henderson isn’t the only one who deserves a rebuke. So does the Kansas Department for Children and Families. In addition to recommending that Henderson be censured for harassing women attorneys, the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications concluded that Henderson wrongly sent an e-mail informing officials with DCF that Wichita attorney Martin Bauer used to handle birth adoptions associated with Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller and had supported “gay adoptions.” The e-mail was sent to Jeff Kahrs, chief of staff at DCF, and Diane Bidwell, then head of DCF’s Wichita office. Bauer had handled some adult guardianship cases for DCF, but after receiving the e-mail, DCF removed Bauer and his law firm, Martin Pringle, from its appointment list. The commission ruled that Henderson “inappropriately mixed his personal views on sociopolitical issues” with his official duties. So did DCF.

Kansas earns ‘F’ on protecting new parents

newbornPresident Obama called this week for paid maternity leave, saying the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world. Meanwhile, a new study gave Kansas an “F” grade on its policies (or lack thereof) to protect new parents. Kansas is among 17 states that don’t expand upon federal rights or protections, limited as they are, for new and expecting parents, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Internationally, America ranks dead last among 38 nations for its government support for working parents, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center report. Family values?

Kansas’ image gets another spanking

childcrying1Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, says that her spanking bill is aimed at clearly defining corporal discipline so that there is no longer confusion and ambiguity about what is and isn’t allowable. But her public statements go further, suggesting that there are some defiant children who could use a spanking by their parents or school officials. And her claim that parents are having their children taken away by the state because of a swat on the bottom is not true, said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett. Coming on the heels of the Kansas House’s attempt to justify discrimination against same-sex couples, this bill – which defines allowable spanking as “up to 10 forceful applications” that may leave “redness or bruising” – gave the national media fresh fodder for their “what’s the matter with Kansas” narrative.

New abuse-reporting policy is common sense

Good for the Wichita school board for unanimously underscoring in district policy Monday something that seems like common sense – that employees should call 911 immediately if they witness “a situation involving suspected physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect that may constitute criminal activity.” With USD 259 having logged 1,982 reports of suspected abuse or neglect last school year, employees need to have no doubt about their first responsibility, which is to safeguard the endangered student by calling the cops.

City, kids blessed by Wichita Children’s Home

Congratulations to the Wichita Children’s Home on its 125th anniversary, which was Friday. The home started as an orphanage in 1888 and is now a crisis shelter that serves about 5,000 children and young people every year. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, a former resident of the home who now directs the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University, spoke of the dedication and commitment of the staff: “They don’t care how little money they might have. They don’t care how hard the work can be. They help those children day after day after day.” Wichita and tens of thousands of children have been blessed by work the home has done all these years.

Raise child-care costs to encourage work?

To encourage poor people to work more, the Kansas Department for Children and Families wants to increase their cost of child care. Huh? DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who chairs Gov. Sam Brownback’s task force on reducing childhood poverty, argues that increasing the co-pays would encourage parents – mostly single mothers – to work longer hours and pursue workplace promotions, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. “Encouraging full-time employment will reduce poverty,” Gilmore said. But Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, noted that it doesn’t do much good to encourage the poor to get good jobs when those jobs aren’t available.

Two sweet deals raise questions

State government is such a small world that insider deals can be hard to avoid. But two new ones out of Topeka are raising questions. One of the four contracts privatizing child-support enforcement in Kansas just went to Mississippi-based YoungWilliams Child Support Services, whose CEO and his wife each donated the maximum $2,000 to Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2010 campaign, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, and whose former employee Trisha Thomas has been the state’s director of child-support services since 2011. It was in that role that Thomas announced the privatization in March, telling state employees “the current child-support system is not cost-effective, has an inefficient structure and needs significant improvement.” In the other case, reported by the Lawrence Journal-World and the Kansas Health Institute News Service, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, successfully pushed for a budget amendment providing $12 million in grants to schools over two years for one reading program, Lexia Reading Core5, to be administered by Newton-based Educational Design Solutions – a no-bid arrangement for one company. The grant program was not vetted by legislative hearings or the Kansas State Department of Education and is to be administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. A DCF spokeswoman disputed any link between the YoungWilliams contract and the Brownback political donations (“The selection was based on lowest bid,” she said). EDS’ Newton-based sales representative has denied any political or financial ties between Rhoades and the company, and Rhoades told KHI: “My only interest is real results for students.”

Editor’s note: According to Angela de Rocha, DCF’s director of communications, YoungWilliams has been a child-support contractor in the state since 2005. She called it “misleading and inaccurate” to suggest there was any connection between the latest contract and either the governor or any state employee.

Where would $100 million in savings come from?

Keeping long-term care services for intellectually and developmentally disabled Kansans out of KanCare would cost the state nearly $100 million, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said last week. But where exactly would those savings come from? The Brownback administration has promised that services and reimbursement rates wouldn’t be cut, and it’s not as if the current system is flush with funding. “It’s a grossly underfunded system at this time,” Colin McKenney, CEO of Starkey Inc., told The Eagle editorial board earlier this year, calling the notion of the state squeezing $100 million out of the I/DD system “very alarming.” Are these more made-up savings, like the $30 million that the administration claimed it would saved by the turnpike merger but could never explain? Or would the savings come from making it such as fight to get approval for services that people give up?

Kansas making progress on its infant-mortality problem

In a week full of awful news, one story stood out as hopeful – the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the infant-mortality rate dropped 10.5 percent nationally and 15.6 percent in Kansas between 2005 and 2011. The state has done good work in recent years trying to address its comparatively high rate of infant deaths, including by convening a Kansas Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality. Together with the March of Dimes and other private efforts, state leaders need to keep up the study of infant deaths and be aggressive in targeting medical factors such as congenital abnormalities, preterm births and sudden infant death syndrome. For example, Kansas Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser recently announced an initiative to cut the premature birthrate from 11.2 to 10.3 percent by the end of 2014.

Brownback puts spotlight on child-abuse prevention

Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for participating in a recent event on the state Capitol lawn that drew attention to child-abuse prevention. The state received 64,000 calls last year reporting child abuse, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “One child being abused is too many,” Brownback said. “We simply can’t afford to ignore this problem in our homes, offices, schools and neighborhood.”

After sale, Lincoln Elementary still will serve kids

It looks like something great for the community will come from the Wichita school district’s decision last year to close Lincoln Elementary School, thanks to the school board’s vote Monday paving the way to sell the school to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County for $260,000 later this month. Staffed by law enforcement officers and others who investigate and fight child abuse, the nonprofit center has been doing its crucial and sensitive work in the awkward setting of the State Office Building downtown. At the former school, it can fulfill its goal of being a one-stop, child-focused crisis center for victims of physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking and Internet crimes. Would taxpayers rather the sale were at a price closer to the appraised value for the property and land of $939,000? Of course. But the community has sorely needed such a center for years now, and as superintendent John Allison said Monday: “This is truly the definition of a win-win.”

Don’t rob early childhood grants to pay for reading initiative

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said that it “defies logic” for Gov. Sam Brownback to want cut $9.2 million from early childhood block grants to help pay for his new “Reads to Succeed” initiative. “We support investments in literacy,” she told the Lawrence Journal-World, “but it doesn’t make sense at the expense of early intervention.” The roots of reading begin in early childhood, and if children don’t start school ready to learn, it is difficult for them to catch up.

More Kansas kids finding new homes

It’s encouraging that there has been an increase in the number of adoptions finalized in Kansas. There were 777 adoptions finalized in the 2012 fiscal year and 761 finalized in 2011. Those numbers were up from 721 in 2010, though fewer than the 816 finalized in 2009. “Adoption is a beautiful example of the power of family to change the course of a child’s life,” said Gov. Sam Brownback, who has made adoptions a priority. “All children deserve to grow up with parents who love them and are committed to them.”

Poverty rate highest among the youngest Kansans

“Poverty among children ages 4 and younger was higher than among other age groups,” according to the 2012 Kansas Economic Report by the Kansas Department of Labor. Kansans in the youngest age group had a poverty rate of 22.1 percent, while the poverty rate for Kansans of all ages is 13.5 percent. Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that higher poverty among very young children is especially troubling because “we know that’s the most critical period for child brain development.”

Failure to report a missing child is now a crime

As the sensational trial of Casey Anthony played out last summer in Florida, it was shocking to learn that Kansas lacked a law against saying nothing when your young child dies or goes missing. Such cases are rare, thank goodness, but such a law could have applied in the case of Adam Herrman, the 11-year-old whose adoptive parents failed to report his disappearance from their Towanda mobile home in May 1999. A new law, which the House and Senate passed unanimously and Gov. Sam Brownback signed last month, makes it a nonperson felony for a parent, legal guardian or caretaker to knowingly fail to tell authorities “as soon as practically possible” when a child under 13 goes missing, or to promptly report the death of a child. As of July 1, what sounds like common sense is also the law in Kansas.

Good work on grandparents’ rights

When a child is taken from a parent’s home because of suspected abuse or neglect, there is often a responsible grandparent eager to step in. Authorities should be just as eager to work with such grandparents, rather than automatically place children with strangers. Thanks to a new state law, which was fought for by state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (in photo), D-Wichita, courts now must give substantial consideration to a grandparent who requests custody of such a child. And if the grandparent is passed over for placement, the state has to explain why. The reform sounds like common sense, and should be good for kids and grandparents alike.

Kansas requires reporting to SRS

Though Penn State football coach Joe Paterno (in photo) was fired over the sex-abuse scandal involving his former assistant coach, Paterno didn’t violate the law. He reported the suspected child abuse to his supervisors at the university, which is apparently all that is required in Pennsylvania. That’s not the case in Kansas, noted John Richard Schrock, an Emporia State University professor who trains biology teachers. Kansas law requires professionals who regularly work with children to report suspected child abuse directly to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services or to SRS via a law enforcement officer. “A teacher would probably by courtesy also inform the principal; indeed, local school policy may require it,” Schrock wrote. “But the principal is not a substitute for informing Social and Rehabilitation Services.”

Panel should represent entire state

It’s called the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, not the Northeast Kansas Children’s Cabinet, and it’s empowered to advise the governor and Legislature on how best to spend the state’s proceeds from the multistate tobacco settlement — $55 million to $60 million this fiscal year, earmarked for children’s programs. Yet the four newly appointed members of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, like the other five members, all hail from the northeastern part of the state, with most coming from either the Kansas City area or Topeka. When it was created in 1999, the panel was led by former Cessna Aircraft Co. executive John Moore, a Wichitan who later became lieutenant governor. Twelve years later, population-rich south-central Kansas, like the rest of the state, ought to be able to count on the governor and legislative leaders to ensure their appointments to such an important panel accurately reflect the state’s geography.

Put child abuse in the spotlight

Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for wanting to direct some sunlight on the darkness of child abuse. At the 35th-annual Governor’s Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect last week in Topeka, Brownback said that his administration would regularly publicize county-by-county child abuse statistics, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. Doing so, he said, should prompt questions and drive actions on the local level to focus on child abuse. From July through September, Kansas recorded 14,850 child-in-need-of-care intake reports, according to information on the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ website. Sedgwick County had 2,356 of those reports, or 16 percent.

Grandparents have new protections

One positive new law that didn’t get much attention during the legislative session was a change championed by state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, that will help protect the rights of grandparents during child custody cases. Senate Bill 23 allows grandparents to serve as interested parties in court proceedings when a child has been removed from home. “Nearly 18,000 Kansas grandparents are the primary caregiver to their grandchildren. . . . As more and more grandparents open up their homes and hearts to their grandchildren,” Faust-Goudeau said, “we must make sure that a system is in place to support them.”

City steps up for abused kids

childabuseGood for the Wichita City Council for voting Tuesday to grant $50,000 to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County. The one-time funding will serve the center’s urgent multidisciplinary work of handling serious cases of child abuse and neglect and Internet crimes against kids. The council also heard from executive director Diana Schunn that the center has seen its financial stability improve and continues to pursue corporate and other private funding. Crimes against children cut across the community and demand a coordinated response. It’s good to see the city and Sedgwick County acting as partners in the fight.

Danger of drowning

drowningemsWith Wednesday’s drowning of a 3-year-old in a lake near an apartment complex — the third such tragic death of an area child in June — Wichita got another heartbreaking warning about the dangerous combination of kids and water. The community should keep the grieving families in its thoughts and prayers. Going into this long and festive holiday weekend, it also should redouble efforts to keep children under close supervision, especially around pools, ponds and lakes. As Safe Kids USA notes, it takes only an inch of water and a few silent minutes for a child to drown. And as the Kansas Child Death Review Board cautioned in its 2009 report: “There should always be an adult who is capable of responding to an emergency observing children around water.”

Yard signs against child abuse

childabusesignInspired by our Thursday editorial expressing shock about recent child abuse deaths, Beverly Van Es (right) and her friend Lily Hill took inspiring action themselves. First Van Es called us to share her wish that the community could see a “blitz” of yard signs with a simple message to “be aware” of child abuse and call 911 to report it: “Just something to make people realize that they can help and what to do,” she said. A day later, the enterprising grandmothers already had signs printed up. Want to help? Call 316-838-8601 or 316-943-1437. Van Es also suggested it’s time for a reminder that in Kansas, a parent or legal guardian can surrender an unharmed 45-day-old or younger infant to someone at a fire station, health department or medical facility without facing any penalty. Kudos to Van Es and Hill for stepping up to help stop these senseless deaths.

European bishops take action on abuse

Good for European Catholic bishops for reaching out to victims of sexual abuse by priests and for taking steps to hold priests and the church accountable. It’s long, long overdue. Associated Press reported: “Swiss bishops urged victims to consider filing criminal complaints. German bishops opened a hotline for victims. Danish bishops launched an inquiry into decades-old claims. And Austria’s senior cleric, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, admitted church guilt as he presided over a service for victims billed as a sign of repentance. ‘Thank you for breaking your silence,’ Schoenborn told the victims. ‘A lot has been broken open. There is less looking away. But there is still a lot to do.’” Schoenborn also is creating an independent and clergy-free commission to suggest ways to strengthen church guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse. The Swiss bishops said in a statement that “it is important to us that unconditional transparency is brought to the past.”