Attorneys for Kansas Appleseed in a new court filing take Gov. Laura Kelly to task for trying to get out of a lawsuit over the treatment of kids in foster care.
Kelly asked the federal court in October to be removed from the lawsuit, arguing the governor plays no direct role in the administration of foster care programs.
A response last week by Kansas Appleseed highlights the governor's remarks on the campaign trail and in office in which she described state-run foster care system as a system in crisis. Structural failures continue to place 7,600 children in state custody at risk, the organization argues, and the governor is in a position to do something about it.
"Bounced between one-night stays in unfamiliar foster homes, government offices and a variety of other temporary settings, Kansas foster children are experiencing — and remain at grave risk of experiencing — housing instability tantamount to homelessness," the court filing said. "At the same time, Kansas is failing to provide vulnerable children in foster care the mental and behavioral health screening, diagnostic services and treatment they urgently need."
Kansas Appleseed filed the class-action lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of children in the foster care system. The lawsuit was updated last year to reflect the names of the new governor and her agency leaders.
A series in October by The Topeka Capital-Journal and KCUR explored the instability of the foster care system: Kansas under former Gov. Sam Brownback cut food assistance and other services to the most needy families, thousands of children entered state care, and the number of runaways surged.
The Kelly administration made progress in reducing the average number of children missing at any time from 80 to 50. Her administration also pulled contracts from specific vendors who provide services through the child welfare system. She requested and received funding from the Legislature for additional social workers and a new, prevention-based federal grant program.
More recently, Kelly proposed reorganizing social welfare systems under a single umbrella agency, arguing it will help streamline services.
Lauren Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the administration’s highest priority is the safety and well-being of all Kansas children.
“The Department for Children and Families has made progress in fixing a broken foster care system,” Fitzgerald said. “Every child deserves to be in a safe, loving home. This administration won't settle for anything less."
Fitzgerald said it is routine to ask the court to dismiss a governor from lawsuits that already involve state agencies.
Kansas Appleseed argues that Kelly's actions show she is responsible for making improvements.
"Gov. Kelly’s motion to dismiss unpersuasively seeks to avoid legal responsibility for a crisis that is inescapably part of her own administration, a crisis she has openly accepted and in which she is actively involved," the court filing said.