State answers lawsuit claiming DCF harms children in foster care

Published: May. 15, 2019 at 3:56 PM CDT
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In January, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of ten children who were in the foster care system. The class-action lawsuit, filed against the governor, DCF and KDHE, claims Kansas is emotionally, psychologically, developmentally and neurologically hurting children in the foster care system.

Now, the state has responded to the allegations claiming that the defendants cannot be sued and many of the allegations are baseless for a number of reasons.

The suit says 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.

Other than the clear change in leadership which excludes former Governor Jeff Colyer, Former DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel from the suit, the state says the defendants cannot be sued anyway because of the Eleventh Amendment.

The response also says, "Neither Plaintiffs nor any member of the putative class of plaintiffs have been deprived of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States or the State of Kansas."

The state says the plaintiffs injuries are, "speculative," instead of actual or imminent and the children represented are not in DCF custody right now or haven't been identified as having any mental or behavioral health treatment needs.

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 response adds, if there was any such deprivation, it is not attributable to any, "pattern, custom, policy, practice, or structural deficiency," on the defendants' part.