Lawsuit: Kansas hurts foster children emotionally, psychologically

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KWCH) Kansas is emotionally, psychologically, developmentally and neurologically hurting children in the foster care system, a new class-action lawsuit says.

The suit, filed Friday, on behalf of 10 children who have been in the foster-care system is against Governor Jeff Colyer, DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, KDHE Secretary Jeff Anderson and KDADS Secretary Tim Keck.

The suit says children in the foster-care system, nearly one-fifth of the children in foster care with DCF were forced to sleep in, "one-night placements" which the lawsuit says could be anything from a bed, couch, office conference room, shelter or hospital. The suit calls the practice, "churning."

"Children in DCF custody needlessly move from placement to placement more than 15 or 20 times, and some children even move more than 50 or 100," the lawsuit says.

That constant disruption in a child's life causes emotional, psychological, developmental and neurological harm, the suit alleges saying studies show it can worsen attachment and behavioral disorders while also harming a child's brain, central nervous system and endocrine system.

Not only does the suit say DCF is causing these issues because of "churning," but the suit also says DCF is failing to provide children in its care with mental health and behavioral health screenings and diagnostics including trauma-related screening and diagnostics.

The two issues combined, the lawsuit states, increasing instability in foster families because the families cannot meet the child's needs.

While the suit is on behalf of 10 children who have had poor experiences within DCF custody, it also says it represents all children who are or will ever be in DCF custody in the foster care system.

The goal of the lawsuit is to get instruction to force the defendants to fix the practices the suit calls dangerous which, in turn, would end violations of federal rights.

The Office of Governor-Elect Laura Kelly released the following statement:

"The Governor-elect is aware of the litigation and very concerned about the disturbing allegations. She will continue to learn more about the challenges and deficiencies in each agency throughout the transition," said Ashley All. "For further comment on pending litigation, please contact Governor Jeff Colyer and Attorney General Schmidt."

Friday, Eyewitness News spoke with one Kansas couple who says they've taken care of about 15 children in the foster-care system over the past three years. The couple says they're not surprised by the lawsuit concerning DCF and they won't foster much longer if the agency doesn't improve.

The couple, Bill and Yolanda Kirkpatrick, have two biological daughters. They wanted to make their family bigger, so they became foster parents and they say they became attached to the foster-children they've cared for.

But they say they've been hurt by DCF. Their issue concerned one child in their care who struggled with mental-health issues. The Kirkpatricks say the child was "a great kid who was doing well in school. But they couldn't find help for him concerning his mental health.

The couple says they asked DCF to examine the boy for more than a year and a half. Eventually, with the root of some concerning problems going untreated and not diagnosed, the Kirkpatricks say the boy was taken out of their home to protect the other children.

"We didn't get the help that we needed, so had had to be removed out of our home, and we hated that," Yolanda Kirkpatrick says. "But we had to look after our safety (and) of our other children in our home."

The couple says mental health is key to protecting children in the system and they're planning to foster one more time, hoping changes are made at the state level to better support families trying to address and treat problems foster children may have.