So far this month, eastern Kansas foster care contractor KVC Kansas hasn’t had any kids sleep in its offices. St. Francis, the contractor for the rest of the state, has had four kids overnight, according to the latest update from the state child welfare agency.
In recent months, each of those contractors logged dozens of overnight stays per month.
KVC says it first started keeping children in its offices overnight in September 2016, while St. Francis saw its first office overnight in February 2017. Getting kids off couches, cots and air mattresses has been a priority since then — though it’s been more challenging amid a spike in the number of kids in the foster care system overall.
Kids end up in offices when there aren’t placement options for them in the community. Many of those children fall into categories that can make them hard to place — like being older, or having behavioral issues or mental health needs that available foster homes might not be equipped to handle.
Both state foster care contractors are opening youth residential centers — group homes that will provide mental health services to meet the needs of some of those hard-to-place kids — in the coming months. KVC will open one in Kansas City, Kansas, while St. Francis hopes to get a space in Wichita operational by early next year.
The number of kids sleeping in offices for both contractors peaked for the year in April.
In an email, KVC Kansas President Chad Anderson credited the decrease this month to “our communities stepp(ing) up in many different ways.”
He said more kids are getting into kinship placements, meaning they’re either with family or with known adults like coaches or neighbors. Subcontractors who help KVC place kids and the communities where they work are also getting a clearer picture of the kids’ needs, he said, allowing KVC to find homes that can meet those needs.
St. Francis is also adding beds for different levels of need. St. Francis spokeswoman Janis Friesen said the contractor added 46 new beds in residential facilities or emergency shelters between Feb. 28 and the end of May. With more than 80 families currently enrolled in classes to become licensed foster homes for St. Francis, more beds will follow.
“The goal is to have zero children sleeping in offices,” Friesen said in an email. “We won’t rest until we achieve it.”
Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.
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