KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over the past five years, the state of Kansas has set records for the number of children in foster care. A Kansas City-based company has made it their mission to act as a light for the many children experiencing dark times.
In August 2017, the Kansas Department for Children and Families reported nearly 7,200 children in the foster care system.
Growing up, Brooke Barney was one of those kids who experienced out-of-home placement.
"It was kind of a shock to me. I didn't see it coming," said Brooke Barney, a recipient of the Shook Scholarship.
When Barney was a teenager, she was placed in the system after her parents divorced. She said during their split, she experienced emotional abuse from one of her parents.
Barney was in and out of foster care. She moved all over Kansas and switched high schools several times.
"There were so many ups and downs and so many court cases that didn't work out the way I wanted them to," said Barney.
At times, she even lost hope for the future. That quickly changed after learning about a local scholarship fund.
"To go from $1,500 in 2001, last year we gave $128,000 in scholarships, it's very, very gratifying," said Gene Balloun of Shook, Hardy and Bacon Law Firm.
In 2001, Shook, Hardy and Bacon Law Firm started the Shook Scholarship Program. Kansas high school students in the system are awarded scholarships to help further their education.
"Feeling that you're a part of making them successful is quite rewarding," said Balloun.
Each year, the firm works on more than 100 adoption cases. The scholarship program is funded by pro bono work and state-paid fees. Balloun said the program is close to his heart.
"We've fostered a number of children. We adopted two of our foster children so we were pretty deeply involved," said Balloun.
Since 2001, the firm has awarded 800 scholarships totaling $1 million. Money Barney has used to get her to her senior year at the University of Kansas.
"Just having one less thing to worry about is absolutely huge," said Barney.
Shook, Hardy and Bacon are currently working to expand a similar program in Missouri.