(WICHITA, Kan.)—In a single year more than two thousand children walk through its doors. The Wichita Children’s Home sees severe abuse, neglect, and kids with nowhere else to go. This year the home celebrates its 125th anniversary and Eyewitness News gets a rare look inside.
Like most kids who walk through the doors of the Wichita Children’s Home, the first group of children we saw arrived in a police car. Three of them, all siblings, walked in with a police officer by their side. They were met with warm smiles and quickly walked into a nearby room.
Within minutes, a little girl began crying and asking to go home. “I want to go home, I don’t feel comfortable here,” said the little girl in tears.
Case manager Shauna Morris did her best to provide comfort with an offer of food and a hug. “I don't get used to it. My heart is in it, that's why I’m here, my heart,” said Morris who often has to leave a room to regain composure.
“When they're upset the mother and grandmother instincts kick in,” she said.
Although we can’t share the details of the case, they had not been abused. There was a possible abuse situation in their home.
But there are many cases that do involve severe abuse and kids who come in with bruises and broken bones.
“I don't understand how people can do that to kids. I have my own kids I love with all my heart. I don't understand how you can harm a child, I just don't get it,” said Gina Thomas who’s worked at the children’s home for 18 years.
Work at the Wichita Children’s Home never stops. It’s open day and night, 365 days a year. It’s only the first stop for kids who need a safe place.
“It's your next door neighbor that it's happening to,” said long time case manager Lisa Brown.
Kids aren’t at the home long. Little ones, infants to 12 year olds, are usually only there for a few hours. Emergency foster families are called and take the children home.
Teens can stay for a few days, but if needed are also moved to foster families or foster agencies.
“I just remember all my brothers and sisters were crying and I was to comfort them and be here for them as much I could. I knew how scared I was at 14 years old,” said Sarah Hayden who came to the children’s home with her five brothers and sisters.
Hayden’s mom was overwhelmed. “She didn't have support at all. She was raising all six of us and she wasn't able to pay the bills or anything so we ended up being evicted from our apartment,” said Sarah.
Sarah, now 19, still gets help from the children’s home. Like her mother, Sarah also became a teenage mom. She's now part of the Wichita Children's Home Bridges program. It helps her find a place to stay, find daycare for her children, and help her go back to school.
Sarah is now in nursing classes at Butler Community College. She hopes to break the cycle. “Here I am. This is my life with two kids. I have to do whatever I can to give them a better life. I don't want them to go through the same situation I have,” she said.
There are many stories at the children’s home with happy endings like Sarah’s. There are also stories of unspeakable abuse.
Human trafficking is a growing problem. The Wichita Children’s home is seeing teenage girls who have been sold into prostitution.
“These are young girls, 12,13, 14 year olds," said case manager Lisa Brown. She says many of the girls become involved at a young age and actually help recruit other girls.
Brown says even after seeing some of the worst abuse cases, there are some that are hard to talk about even today. We asked her to tell us about one of them.
“It was an abuse case. Can I stop, I'm sorry,” said Brown crying. “It was young man who was beaten by his brother because he was getting involved in gangs. He was beaten, not only was he beaten, he had bite marks over 75 percent of his body, trying to teach him a lesson,” she continued. But that boy found safety at the Wichita Children’s Home.
The staff says it’s a place where every child, no matter what, is given an opportunity. “There's no child that should ever be thrown away. Every child deserves a chance,” she said.
The Wichita Children’s Home has faced budget cuts like most agencies. Although it takes clothes, toys and food donations what it needs most is money. It also is in need of volunteers.
If you are interested in helping, or if you need services or know someone who does, call the children’s home at 684-6581.