Kansas Foster Care Records 11 Child Deaths in 2023; DCF Secretary Demands Transparency in Criminal Cases

During a bill hearing on Monday, Laura Howard, Secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, underscored the importance of transparency in the system.

According to records from the state Department for Children and Families, a total of eleven young individuals lost their lives in Kansas’ foster care system in 2023.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary, Laura Howard, emphasized the department’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of children in the system. Additionally, Howard is advocating for legislative changes that would enable the disclosure of more information regarding cases of abuse and neglect.

“Regrettably, we do have some young individuals, similar to those who are not in foster care, who may tragically take their own lives,” Howard expressed with concern. “We place great importance on addressing this issue, but it is also important to acknowledge that natural deaths can also occur.”

In 2023, foster care in the state accommodated a total of 9,308 youths. Among the tragic incidents, there were 11 deaths reported, with six attributed to unintentional injuries and three classified as natural causes. Additionally, two cases were recorded as suicides, one resulted from fentanyl exposure, another from a car accident, and one was a result of drowning. Furthermore, one 17-year-old youth was found deceased due to gunshot wounds after attempting to flee. It is worth noting that five of these cases involved health conditions, including pneumonia.

During an interview with the Kansas Reflector, Howard expressed his willingness to address any trends or issues that may arise. He acknowledged that certain health-related matters may involve children with severe disabilities who enter their care in vulnerable conditions. Howard emphasized that if there are any indications that changes need to be made in terms of healthcare, they will take the necessary steps to address them.

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According to Howard, the department conducts thorough investigations into all deaths, and the state attorney general also reviews them through the annual child death review report. A diverse board comprising health professionals, law enforcement officers, educators, and attorneys carefully examines each child death in Kansas to compile the report.

According to the annual death review report, 392 out of 1,074 child fatalities reviewed by the board between 2019 and 2021 had a history with DCF’s child protective services. These cases involved situations such as being held in state custody, having siblings removed from the home, or having open child protective services cases. Out of the 32 child homicides in 2021, twenty-three of those families had previous involvement with child protective services.

Adina Morse, a child welfare advocate from Kansas Appleseed, highlights the crucial need to provide sufficient mental health assistance and other essential services for youth in foster care.

Morse expressed his sorrow over the loss of any child’s life, emphasizing the need for a dedicated effort within the foster care system. He believes that providing timely access to physical and mental health resources, ensuring stable placements for children, and offering support to biological families are crucial steps in preventing such tragedies. Morse is confident that these measures will contribute to a reduction in such devastating incidents.

Lawmakers and concerned members of the public demanded answers from Howard regarding the agency’s actions. However, due to a statutory restriction on information release, DCF was unable to provide information before a man was charged with rape and capital murder.

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According to current regulations, individuals can obtain information through KORA requests once the agency’s investigation has concluded and determined that the death was a result of abuse or neglect. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is obligated to furnish records within seven business days of receiving a KORA request. These records include details such as the child’s age and gender, the date of the fatality, a synopsis of child welfare reports, and information about the services recommended by the department.

Howard urged lawmakers to revise the law and make it mandatory for DCF to disclose specific details about a child fatality once criminal charges have been filed. This proposal, known as House Bill 2628, was unanimously approved by the House with a vote of 119-0. It has now been forwarded to the Senate for further consideration.

During a Senate committee hearing on the bill, Howard expressed his belief that the lack of fundamental data leads to a significant amount of speculation.

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