Reforms to the juvenile justice system made in 2017 moved troubled kids into foster care, where those with severe behaviors are hurting other kids, destroying property and scaring away foster families.

Two state foster care providers told a legislative committee Wednesday this influx of children has severely overwhelmed an already taxed system, leaving a chaotic situation where kids are sleeping in offices and providers are wondering if they can ever find them a home.

“We have seen traumatic, tragic events that keep me awake at night,” said Rachel Marsh, of Saint Francis Ministries, one of the foster care providers, in testimony before a joint committee on corrections and juvenile justice oversight.

From this troubled system came Hope Zeferjohn and 12 other girls who ran away from state custody, were sex trafficked and then prosecuted on sex crimes. The girls were the focus of a Topeka Capital-Journal and KCUR investigative series. Zeferjohn is seeking a pardon from Gov. Laura Kelly.

“The child welfare system in Kansas is deeply troubled,” said Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Larkin, chairman of the legislative panel. “But trouble within the child welfare system is not news.”

Problems with foster care in Kansas have existed for years, Jennings said, and the situation hasn't improved.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, said she is still bothered by the large number of runaways from the foster care system, which came to light two years ago. She also was unhappy that state officials aren’t providing lawmakers with updates on the number of runaways and locations where it is happening.

The problems within the child welfare system happen because state and local agencies aren’t working together, Baumgardner said.

“We have our schools are not working with our foster program, are not working with law enforcement, and so we have silos, and those silos need to be getting together, working together to serve our kids,” she said.

The daylong hearing revealed the shuffle of troubled kids between agencies. The number of children in detention or probation has decreased while the number of children in foster care has skyrocketed.

The juvenile justice reforms, passed by the Legislature in 2017, were designed to provide treatment rather than incarceration. Social workers raised concerns about the transfer of the detained population into the foster care system.

Marsh, along with Linda Bass, president of KVC Kansas, the other foster care provider, detailed a dangerous situation created by kids they haven’t seen in the past. Marsh told of one child who raped another child, and “we don’t have anyone who wants to take that child.” Since July 2017, Saint Francis has received 160 kids from juvenile justice.

Bass said these “crossover youths,” which fluctuate between the juvenile justice system and the foster care system, are violent and have traumatized staff, as well as decreased the number of foster homes because parents are “terrified” to take them into their home.

Following publication of the investigative series, editorial boards for The Capital-Journal and Kansas City Star called for better understanding of foster care runaways who become sex trafficking victims.

Last year, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt launched a public awareness campaign to discourage paid sex. His spokesman, CJ Grover, on Wednesday renewed the call to prosecute buyers.

"The driving force behind commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, is the demand for commercial sex," Grover said. "Buyers who create that demand must be held accountable for their role in enabling sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. The attorney general would be supportive of more local prosecutions of buyers."