TOPEKA, Kan. – The secretary for Kansas Department for Children and Families held a press conference to address long-standing issues within the agency.
On Monday, Gina Meier-Hummel spoke to reporters about problems within Kansas's foster care system and the need for additional funding.
The secretary said she plans to ask the state for $24 million in additional funding that would go towards hiring additional workers, giving raises to current staff and improving the agency's computer systems.
Not enough employees for Kansas DCF to adequately do its job
A major concern addressed Monday was the need for more social workers.
Meier-Hummel said the agency has several open positions that it can't fill.
Some positions have been vacant for more than 500 days, Meier-Hummel said, adding the vacancies place a strain on the employees Kansas DCF does have.
Meier-Hummel said the problem is that there are not enough people graduating with a degree in social work.
Kansas DCF will hire unlicensed workers
Instead of hiring licensed workers, Meier-Hummel said the agency will start hiring unlicensed child protection specialists.
Meier-Hummel recognized it's not ideal to hire workers who are not qualified to protect the children of Kansas. However, she said the agency doesn't have a choice, due to the amount of vacancies.
"This doesn't compromise the safety in any way," Meier-Hummel said. "I think it's more concerning to not have the positions filled."
The unlicensed workers are required to have a 4-year degree closely related to social work. Meier-Hummel said the unlicensed employees be placed with licensed employees for training.
Kansas DCF also said it will pay for the employees education should certain employees want to seek a degree in social work.
Children missing from foster care
Last year, the agency was scrutinized after more than 70 children were discovered missing from the foster care system.
Meier-Hummel said the number of children missing from the system has been as many as 90 and as few as 65, with 74 kids missing currently missing.
"The vast majority of these children are youth who have ran from their placement," Meier-Hummel said.
The agency now has two full-time investigators who search for missing kids, according to Meier-Hummel.
While she didn’t provide an exact time period, Meier-Hummel said more than 343 children have been found.
Kids sleeping in state offices
Another issue that's created some scrutiny over how the agency operates: Foster kids sleeping in state offices.
Reporting in 2017 indicated there weren't enough foster homes for kids in need.
According to numbers released Monday, in just the last five months, more than 135 children slept in offices that Kansas DCF has contracts with.
Meier-Hummel said most of those children have behavioral needs that make it difficult for Kansas DCF to find speedy placement.
"It's still not an acceptable practice today," Meier-Hummel said.
The agency said it's working to train more people to become foster care families. Meier-Hummel said the agency is also working to expedite the process for placing children with family members.