Kansas Faces Charges Foster Care System is Broken

Kansas officials are facing a lawsuit that alleges the state systematically violates the rights of foster children by moving them from placement to placement as many as 100 times during their time in the system.

Kansas officials are facing a lawsuit that alleges the state systematically violates the rights of foster children by moving them from placement to placement as many as 100 times during their time in the system. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Kentucky governor concedes … Lawsuit could purge Wisconsin voters … Baltimore hits 300 homicides for fifth consecutive year.

Kansas officials are facing protests from parents of kids in the foster care system, along with a lawsuit that alleges the state systematically violates the rights of foster children by moving them from placement to placement as many as 100 times during their time in the system. The nationwide standard for placement stability is 4.12 moves per 1,000 days, while the rate in Kansas has risen over the past few years to 9.7 moves. Benet Magnuson, executive director of the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said that the state’s lack of assistance for needy families led to an increase in the number of children pushed into the foster care system. In 2016, the state cut the budget for community health centers and lowered Medicaid reimbursement rates, in addition to slashing the amount the state spent on SNAP and TANF.  “After pushing those families over the edge, the state takes custody of those kids, and after taking custody of the kids subjects them to a dangerously extreme placement instability, denies them mental health services, and then when those traumatized kids fairly predictably run away, Kansas criminalizes them,” she said. The rate of children in foster care who have run away has also surged in recent years, and an investigation by the Topeka Capital-Journal and public radio station KCUR found that at least 13 girls who ran away were sex trafficked. Some of those girls were incarcerated for crimes related to human trafficking and are being defended by Karen Countryman-Roswurm, director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University. “We’re seeing an increase in the criminalization of the very populations that we intended to serve, largely because people only know enough about trafficking to be dangerous,” she said. Kansas Appleseed filed a lawsuit against the state last year, calling for state agencies to fix the churn rate and asking Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to make systemic changes to the foster care system and address human trafficking. Kelly, who assumed office in 2019, replaced former Gov. Jeff Colyer in the suit, which also names the new heads of state agencies who have control over the foster care system. Kelly this week asked to be removed from the lawsuit because her lawyers argue that she is not responsible for regulating the foster care system. “While Governor Kelly generally oversees her appointees’ administration of the foster care system she does not enforce the statutes or regulations that control the Kansas foster care system,” a statement from her attorneys reads. Teresa Woody, an attorney at Kansas Appleseed, said that Kelly should remain in the suit. “It's not at all uncommon to name the governor in a case like this. The ultimate responsibility for the executive branch of the state rests with the governor,” she said. [KCUR; KMUW; KCUR]

NEW KENTUCKY GOVERNOR | Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin conceded defeat on Thursday, the same day a “recanvass” of the ballots showed that he still had 5,136 fewer votes than challenger Andy Beshear. Bevin, a Republican, initially challenged the outcome, saying he wanted county officials to take a look at the totals again, a process in Kentucky called a recanvass. "I'm not gonna contest these numbers that have come in," Bevin said after the vote totals came in. "It isn't fair to throw that on our legislature to try to find something that there just isn't. We know of some things but just not enough to cause us to think there's gonna be meaningful change." Beshear, a Democrat, had already declared victory and said he was planning his transition. After the Nov. 5 election, Bevin had made unsubstantiated allegations about voting irregularities while asking for the recanvass. While state Senate President Robert Stivers initially suggested the Republican-led legislature could decide the vote, both Stivers and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both recently acknowledged the race was likely over, in Beshear’s favor. Beshear will be sworn into office on Dec. 10. [Courier Journal; WFPL]

VOTER PURGE | More than 234,000 Wisconsin residents would be purged from voter rolls under a lawsuit filed this week by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. The conservative law firm is alleging that the Wisconsin Elections Commission broke the law when it decided to wait up to two years to deactivate voters who didn’t respond to an October mailing confirming their voter registration. The group said that state law requires voters that don’t respond within 30 days to be deactivated, but the commission, which is made up equally of Republicans and Democrats, said the commission has the authority to delay deactivating voters beyond 30 days because a different state law gives them the ability to create rules governing voter registration. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he hopes the case is dismissed. “We should spend our time in making it easier for people to vote rather than make it more difficult. I’m hopeful that that lawsuit is thrown out,” he said. WILL contends that if the voters were purged, registering again would present “no hardship.” If the voters are purged, it could affect who can vote in the April presidential primary and November 2020 general election. [Associated Press; The Hill]

HOMICIDES | For the fifth year in a row, Baltimore has passed the 300 homicides mark. The city may see one of the most violent years on record. In 2018, the 300th homicide was committed on December 20, more than a month after this year’s date. John Hoey, the CEO of the YMCA of Central Maryland, said that the city has a “crisis of leadership” and is not adequately dealing with the problem. “We’ve all become to numb to this. It’s not normal to have the murder rate that we have in Baltimore City,” he said. Mayor Jack Young said that the murder rate isn’t his fault. “It’s not any lack of leadership on my part. I’ve been moving this city forward. I’m not committing the murders. And that’s what people need to understand. I’m not committing the murders. The police commissioner is not committing it. The council is not committing it. So how can you fault leadership?” he said. [Baltimore Sun; CBS Baltimore]

DEER BAITING | The Michigan legislature passed a bill that would repeal a ban on baiting deer, but limit the practice to small amounts of food. The ban was implemented in 2018 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as a way to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, which has significantly impacted Michigan’s deer population. The contagious and fatal disease is believed to be easily spread by baiting. "The CWD ban has been put into effect in hopes of avoiding congregations of large amounts of deer,” said Ariel Young, a DNR Conservation Officer. Republican legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirke, said that there isn’t enough scientific evidence for a ban. "I'm an avid bow hunter and I don't see any problem with baiting whatsoever. How many of you would go fishing and not put worm on your hook? There’s plenty of room to challenge the so-called sound science,” he said. [Detroit Free Press; WXYZ; WLUC]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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