Kansas child welfare system faces sexual assault case

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ troubled child welfare system was beginning to make progress after months of issues when rape allegations were made public last week involving a teen in the state’s custody.

A 13-year-old was allegedly raped by a young man who was also in the state’s care while at an Olathe child welfare office in May. The 18-year-old was charged with assault in the case earlier this month. Both were waiting to be placed in a foster home or facility, the Kansas City Star reported.

The sexual assault occurred at the KVC Behavioral Healthcare, where children have been kept overnight because of a shortage of foster-care beds. Having children sleep in offices was one of several issues that led the Kansas Department for Children and Families to make changes, as well as missing runaways and high-profile deaths.

“It’s tragedies like that that folks have been deeply worried was going to happen,” said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, an advocacy group that serves vulnerable and excluded residents. “It’s one of these moments: if this doesn’t shake us and get us to take action at the deep level that’s needed, I don’t know what will.”

The state Department for Children and Families investigated the sexual assault and cited KVC Behavioral, one of the state’s two private contractors to provide child welfare services.

The lack of supervision at the office was unacceptable, said DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel.

“I think we all in the system feel disappointed this happened,” she said. “But absolutely there are things going right. There is movement happening. It’s good movement.”

Meier-Hummel said she’s been working on a plan to cut down the number of kids staying in offices and to keep more families together.

The system has added 150 residential beds in recent months, and another 50 beds are expected by the end of the year. Only five children have stayed overnight in KVC offices since May 18, Meier-Hummel said.

The department is also focusing on placing more families with relatives. Meier-Hummel’s staff has initiated an effort with Risk Removal Staffing Teams to evaluate neglect cases and identify resources in order to keep families together, when possible.

“We’re not leaving kids at risk,” Meier-Hummel said. “We are talking about putting real services in place to help families.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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