Kansas Department for Children and Families

James Dobson / Garden City Telegram

Shona Banda, a Garden City, Kansas, mother who drew national attention after losing custody of her son over her use of cannabis, has pleaded no contest to felony charges in exchange for probation.

Banda, who has Crohn’s disease, has been a vocal advocate of medical marijuana and self-published a book about her use of cannabis oil to treat her condition, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause severe abdominal pain and other symptoms.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The head of an organization that represents Kansas state employees is criticizing Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration for using a state agency to deliver a political attack on the Legislature.

Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said it was inappropriate for the administration to send an email to employees of the Kansas Department for Children and Families that criticizes lawmakers for raising taxes.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Aubri Thompson has already had her share of challenges by age 21: She left the foster care system without a designated caregiver, lived without a steady home for more than a year and became a single parent before finishing college.

Thompson lived in the Kansas foster care system from age 14, when she was reported as a runaway, until she “aged out” at 18. During that time, she moved 21 times, staying in foster homes, group homes and mental health treatment facilities.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday signed a bill creating a task force to examine the Kansas foster care system.

The number of children in the Kansas foster care system has set records in recent years, passing 7,100 in April. The death of an abused boy in Kansas City, Kansas, also raised concerns about whether the system was protecting children. 

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Kansas scores 15th among the 50 states for overall child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 “Kids Count” report.

The state’s relatively high overall ranking is driven by its No. 7 ranking for kids’ economic well-being, based on indicators like housing affordability and employment security for parents.

But the state fares less well in three other categories: health, in which the foundation ranks it 20th; education, 26th; and family and community,  23rd.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

With a record number of children in state custody — more than 7,000 at the end of March — Kansas officials have made recruiting and retaining foster parents a priority.

Speaking at a recent Statehouse event, Gov. Sam Brownback said Kansas should reverse its current situation and have foster parents waiting to be assigned children.

“This is doable. We just need people to step up,” he said. “Listen to your heart. Don’t block it.”

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

A few years ago, Olathe attorney Shanelle Dupree noticed a pattern in the foster care cases she handled: Most parents had little understanding of the system or what to do if they wanted their children back.

So she started a class to try to change that. Once a month, parents who have a child in foster care can meet in a Johnson County family law courtroom to learn more about the basics of the child welfare system. Most parents are referred by the courts as part of the plan to prove they can take care of their children, Dupree said.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas is on track to spend less than a third of what it did six years ago on cash assistance and to serve a third as many low-income people, according to a state budget office memo.

Those numbers have been falling steadily since Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011, when Kansas began incorporating work requirements for programs like cash assistance and food stamps in an effort to break what the governor described as “cycles of dependency.”

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Turnover among caseworkers has delayed children’s movement through the Kansas foster care system, contributing to record numbers of kids living away from their families.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers have struggled since 2015 on whether to investigate alleged discrimination against same-sex couples in the state’s foster care and adoption system.

Now some think they’ve hit on an answer: Ask people working in the foster care system if they think the issue needs a deeper look.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, has asked the Legislative Post Audit Division to conduct a survey about potential bias against same-sex couples in child placement decisions.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Editor’s note: Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1997 after a lawsuit revealed widespread problems. Twenty years later, the number of Kansas children in foster care has shot up — by a third in just the last five years — and lawmakers are debating whether the system once again needs serious changes. The Kansas News Service investigated problems in the system and possible solutions. This is the first story in a series.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

The Kansas House gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill creating a task force that will recommend improvements to the foster care system.

The House Children and Seniors Committee passed the bill in March after collecting testimony from foster parents, law enforcement officials and child welfare advocates. Many of those who testified expressed concerns about social worker caseloads and lack of coordination in the system. 

Susie Fagan / Kansas News Service

A bill to increase oversight of the Kansas foster care system hit a snag after state officials said its wording could jeopardize millions in federal funding.

The bill would create an interim oversight committee that would study problems in the state’s foster care system and submit a corrective action plan to the Kansas Legislature. The House Committee on Children and Seniors approved the bill in March, but it still must pass the full House and Senate.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas has plenty of reports on problems in its foster care system but needs a plan to fix them, according to members of a House committee.

The House Children and Seniors Committee voted Tuesday to create a foster care task force that will present a plan for improvements to the foster care system by January.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, said the state needs to do more than study the foster care system.

“This task force is not for oversight. It’s for corrective action,” he said.

James Dobson / Garden City Telegram

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought by a Garden City, Kansas, mother who lost custody of her son over her use of cannabis oil in an incident that drew national attention.

In a brief four-page order Tuesday, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten dismissed the action, finding that Shona Banda had failed to respond to the defendants’ “prima facie valid arguments.”

Banda, who represented herself, had sued the Garden City school district and one of its employees; the Garden City police department and its chief; the state of Kansas and Gov. Sam Brownback; and the Kansas Department for Children and Families and its secretary, Phyllis Gilmore.

Banda filed her lawsuit in March, exactly a year after Garden City police raided her home and seized marijuana, cannabis oil and drug-related equipment after her 11-year-old son spoke up about her use of cannabis at a school anti-drug presentation.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The Medicaid application backlog in Kansas is on its way back up, threatening months of progress on a coverage problem that has vexed health care providers across the state.  

For more than a year, providers that rely on Kansas Medicaid, or KanCare, have been stung by delayed payments as they wait months for eligibility determinations that by federal rule are supposed to take no more than 45 days.

Kansas Department for Children and Families

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families confirmed this week that a call center for child abuse reports had trouble keeping up with the volume of calls it received in September but denied the center had a “backlog.”

Foster care contractors learned of the issue in a Sept. 22 email sent by a DCF employee that said the call center was “experiencing a backlog in processing new reports of abuse or neglect, due to a severe staffing issue.”

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore brushed off two Democrats’ calls for her resignation and defended her agency Wednesday following an audit critical of its oversight of the state’s foster care system.

Gilmore acknowledged that the audit was “negative,” but disputed some of it and said the agency already had started correcting most of the deficiencies cited.

File photo

Members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee again declined Tuesday to request an investigation into whether the Kansas Department for Children and Families has placed children in risky situations because of a preference for heterosexual foster parents.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, first requested the audit in December after reports surfaced of DCF removing a baby from the home of a lesbian couple in Wichita and placing it with a heterosexual Topeka couple who subsequently were charged with child abuse.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

When Shannon Lindsey moved from Missouri to Kansas two years ago, she decided she wanted to go to Johnson County Community College to get a nursing degree that would make her more employable.

Lindsey, now 49, has several disabilities, so she contacted Kansas’ vocational rehabilitation office for assistance. In Missouri she had the same vocational rehabilitation counselor for years — a state worker who understood her needs, what was available to help her and how to get it to her quickly.

File photo / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas has fewer low-income families receiving cash assistance than at any time in the last decade, but less than 10 percent are recorded as leaving the program because they found jobs.

File photo

Editor’s note: A backlog of Medicaid applications has caused financial strain for nursing homes and put thousands of Kansans at risk for loss of medical care. State officials trace the beginnings of the backlog to a computer system switch.

James Radlund

After two years of being homeless and moving through jobs, James Radlund says he’s ready for something better.

Radlund, 46, of Pittsburg, Kansas, is one of the early participants in a new Kansas Department for Children and Families job training program for food assistance recipients.

He said it had been difficult to hold a job because of a series of circumstances, including seeking treatment for addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol, going through a divorce, losing housing after a roommate didn’t have his share of the rent and dealing with depression.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

In an announcement that was heavy on optimism but light on details, the Kansas Department for Children and Families introduced a mentoring program for families receiving cash assistance.

The Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program involves mentoring 1,100 people receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments, also known as cash assistance. It will expand in July to youths about to age out of the foster care system, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.

Andy Marso/KHI News

 Two Kansas government agencies are teaming up on a $50,000 ad campaign urging employers to follow federal child support law.

The law highlighted in the campaign requires employers to report new hires to the Kansas Department of Labor so the department can  withhold any child support the new employee owes.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to divert federal funding away from a health insurance program is drawing sharp criticism from children’s advocates.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, says the governor is shortchanging Kansas families who depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families has responded to a “whistleblower” lawsuit filed by a former child protection worker who accused the agency of firing her after she called her supervisor’s attention to false reports filed by a social worker.

In its response, filed this week in Cowley County District Court, DCF said that because the child protection worker, Karen King, did not share her concerns with a legislator or an auditor, she is not entitled to whistleblower protection.

Dave Ranney / KHI News Service

A former child protection supervisor with the Kansas Department for Children and Families office in Winfield has filed a “whistleblower” lawsuit, accusing the agency of firing her for calling her supervisor’s attention to false reports filed by a social worker.

In the lawsuit, filed in early December in Cowley County District Court, Karen King asks that she be reinstated with back pay.

King’s attorney, Orvel Mason, declined to comment on the case.

“What’s in the petition is pretty much what we’d have to say,” he said. “We’ll leave it at that.”

A spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families says the agency plans to heed Gov. Sam Brownback’s call for cutting $3.9 million from its fiscal year 2015 budget by delaying a planned upgrade of its computer system.

The savings should cover “almost all of our anticipated FY 2015 reduction,” DCF spokesperson Theresa Freed said in an email, referring to the state’s current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2015.

Delaying the upgrade, she said, will have “no impact” on the department’s services for at-risk children and low-income families.