It isn’t just Kansas, my guess would be that nationwide within the foster care system, 2 or three thousand kids are missing from the system……me among them. I just walked out one day and no one said anything.
Kansas will step up efforts to find scores of missing foster children
BY JONATHAN SHORMAN
Kansas plans to step up efforts to find foster children missing from its care – 77 at a recent count.
The Department for Children and Families will dedicate a staff member to coordinating efforts with law enforcement to find missing children, and the leader of the agency will receive a daily report on them.
Gina Meier-Hummel detailed those efforts on Wednesday in a news conference where Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer named her to head the agency. It is his first cabinet-level selection as he waits to become governor.
"I expect to have a report on my desk every morning of the youth who are missing, and we will be taking active efforts to find
Revelations this fall that more than 70 Kansas foster children were missing shocked lawmakers. Outgoing DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore angered some lawmakers because she appeared unaware of the case of three Tonganoxie sisters who were missing at the time.
Seventy-seven children were missing as of Nov. 12, according to DCF. Ten were between the ages of 0 and 11, 32 were ages 12 to14, and 35 were 15 to 18.
The overall number of missing is always changing because some are found and others go missing. But the number of missing children doubled over two years, according to DCF data.
A dedicated staff member will work with law enforcement to assist efforts to find missing children, Meier-Hummel said. She mentioned watching to see if children access social media accounts as an example.
Meier-Hummel, currently the leader of The Children’s Shelter in Lawrence, also promised to tackle the problem of foster children sleeping in offices. Children sometimes stay in the offices of state foster care contractors if homes cannot be found.
She called the practice unacceptable but did not offer specifics about how to stop it. Children in state custody “deserve to have a warm, safe place to sleep at night,” she said.
Meier-Hummel, who has held positions in the past in DCF and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, plans to make staffing changes and strengthen reviews of child deaths. She promised a top-to-bottom review of the agency.
Meier-Hummel’s promises of reform come after at-times blistering criticism of Gilmore. Democrats had called for Gilmore to resign for years, and state audits more than a year ago found numerous agency shortcomings related to foster care.
The criticism of DCF and Gilmore has often been bipartisan. Both Republicans and Democrats voiced concerns over the missing children.
“Quite frankly, we continue to have bad news coming out of that agency,” Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said. “Like I’ve discussed with the lieutenant governor several times, probably the most embattled agency is DCF.”
Said Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita: "When the articles came out in the newspaper about 70 children missing, you don’t just read that and put it off. I don’t care if it’s one child missing, something’s going on here."
Colyer did not talk about Gilmore but made clear her replacement is just one step in efforts to put his stamp on the state. Colyer will become governor if Sam Brownback resigns, which is he expected to do if confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a diplomatic post.
"Today’s announcement is the first of many key changes we will be rolling out as we improve how Kansas government operates," Colyer said.
Colyer formally announced Meier-Hummel after his office confirmed her appointment on Tuesday. She will begin the job on Dec. 1, the same day Gilmore will officially leave. The Kansas Senate must eventually vote to confirm her.
Reaction to Colyer’s selection has been generally positive from lawmakers, if reserved.
"I am hopeful that she will be do what needs to be done & be diligent in protecting the children of our state," Rep. Debbie Deere, D-Lansing, said on Facebook. "Time will tell."