- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Wichita Eagle, Nov. 26

Foster care system has real problems

State struggling with record numbers of foster children

Editor’s note: The Kansas Department for Children and Families’ recent lowering of the standard for substantiating child abuse claims pertains only to the placement of people on a registry that prevents them from working in a licensed day care facility or foster home. An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly characterized the impact of the change.

A legislative hearing last week in Topeka raised serious concerns about the state’s foster care system. Unfortunately, lawmakers also wasted time on what should be a nonissue: same-sex parents.

The state is struggling with record numbers of foster children - more than 6,000 are in the system. In addition, the Department for Children and Families is having difficulty recruiting and retaining social workers and maintaining enough foster parents.

Ed Klumpp, a top law enforcement representative, told lawmakers that police officers and sheriff deputies have trouble reaching social workers and their supervisors by phone. He also said that a 24-hour child abuse hotline is frequently not answered, and that more foster parents need training in de-escalation and conflict resolution.

Several lawmakers also questioned the structure of the foster care system, which Kansas privatized nearly 20 years ago.

“The kind of system we’ve created isn’t working,” Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service.

Still, with all these concerns, the committee chairman, Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, took time to challenge the validity of same-sex parenting. He had a sociologist testify by phone about the supposed negative outcomes for children of same-sex couples - claims not supported by the vast majority of research or by leading professional organizations. Knox also said he would revive a bill he championed last session to pay more money to foster parents who are in long-term heterosexual marriages.

Fortunately, most lawmakers seem to realize that the state’s foster care system has real problems - and that same-sex parents aren’t one of them.


Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 30

Law enforcement agencies have recruiting woes

A Wichita Police Department official says low starting pay and bad publicity generated by high-profile incidents involving law enforcement officers have made it difficult for the department and other agencies to attract young recruits.

The Wichita Eagle recently reported the city’s police department has more than 50 open positions and the Kansas Highway Patrol has more than 100 openings, although there are only 19 cadets in the patrol academy class now under way. The Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office has 34 open deputy positions.

If beginning pay is a problem, and we don’t doubt that it is, the state and local jurisdictions should address it, beginning now. Like any other profession, law enforcement must be competitive if it hopes to attract qualified young people. The salary for beginning law enforcement officers in the Wichita area is in the $20,000 range, which probably doesn’t excite a lot of young people looking for a job and a career, especially young men and women with families to support.

Capt. Brent Allred, who directs the Wichita Police Department’s training bureau, told The Wichita Eagle most college graduates are looking for jobs that pay enough to allow them to repay their student debt. A beginning law enforcement salary doesn’t meet that basic goal.

Law enforcement is an inherently dangerous occupation, and the reward for doing the job should be in line with the risks. Law enforcement officers with some longevity can earn respectable wages and benefits, including retirement packages, but if starting wages don’t increase it appears there will be fewer and fewer officers in line to replace those now serving. That’s not a good situation for the Kansas Highway Patrol or the many police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state.

Dealing with the bad publicity generated by police-involved shootings across the country may be more problematic than low salaries. As soon as one such incident drops out of the news, another one, or two, grabs the nation’s attention.

Such incidents, however, are not the norm. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of police officers and sheriff’s deputies across the country go to work each day to serve and protect the people living in their jurisdictions. If they do their jobs well, few take notice of it.

On the other hand, many are ready to indict the entire profession whenever one bad law enforcement officer anywhere does something incredibly stupid or criminal.

Kansas law enforcement agencies must strive to remind everyone, especially prospective recruits, that those few incidents are not reflective of the profession, although they are one reason more young, dedicated people are needed. Then, they need to increase the beginning pay.


Hutchinson News, Nov. 25.

Public should report illegal or suspicious hunting activity

It’s happening all around. Deer are being poached statewide. A buck was shot Nov. 20 in Reno County and left to rot near Fairfield. Shots were heard Nov. 22 in Kingman County. Not long afterward a buck was found caped and dumped.

These are not isolated incidents. Reports have come from Kanopolis Reservoir, Phillipsburg, and the counties of Mitchell, Neosho, Anderson, Pottawatomie, Montgomery, Woodson and Osage. Many of the stories state the deer were shot, antlers removed and the animals left for an easy meal for predators.

The violations of hunting laws are many. Although it’s archery season for deer, these animals were shot illegally with rifles. The game was not properly taken care of and so on. These are not hunters. They are poachers who need to be stopped.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism started posting the various incidents of poaching on its website several years ago. It’s helped to get the word out that these criminal acts, punishable by fines and loss of privileges, are happening.

“This has been going on for a while,” said Capt. Larry Hastings of the KDWPT, adding poachers “are running pretty rampant and the firearms deer season hasn’t even started yet.”

Firearms deer season opens Dec. 2. Until then, anyone seen shooting a deer with a firearm should be reported immediately to the county sheriff’s office. Once firearms season has opened, anything that looks suspicious should be reported to the sheriff.

Calls can also be made to KDWPT’s Operation Game Thief at (877) 426-3843 or, locally, to the game warden at (316) 215-2124.

It should be understood that poaching is not hunting. It’s a crime. Hunters, along with the general public, should do what they can to stop poaching. If it looks suspicious, it probably is. Make the call.

If it’s an actual hunter legally taking game, he won’t mind a visit from the sheriff. It’s the poachers who will need to watch out.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 24

More homeless families with children face dim holidays

Tables in many homes on Thursday are expected to overflow with food for a Thanksgiving Day feast. But as the weather turns colder in this holiday season, people are also right to wonder about those who are less fortunate.

The good news is that the number of adults who are homeless has fallen in the United States and in the Kansas City area.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that from its January count, those who are homeless on any given night is down 11 percent since 2007 to 564,708 this year, including a 2 percent drop from last year.

Data from the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City shows a 25 percent drop since 2014 to 1,446 homeless persons in 2015. That’s also down 48 percent from a post-Great Recession high of 2,789 in 2011.

But the face of homelessness is changing to families with children and unaccompanied minors. The National Center for Homeless Education this month found that the number of homeless students in America’s public schools is increasing. In the 2013-2014 school year, 1.3 million students were homeless, up 15 percent from the year before.

In Kansas and Missouri the increase in homeless students from the fall of 2011 to the summer of 2014 was even higher.

In Kansas the number jumped 16.5 percent to 10,378. In Missouri the count rose 21.3 percent to 29,784. Kansas City Public Schools in 2014-2015 had 1,824 students who were homeless.

Families with children and unaccompanied minors with no permanent home stay in places like motels, or “couch surf” in the homes of friends or family. The U.S. Department of Education-funded report shows 76 percent of homeless students live in “doubled-up” housing.

Homelessness for children is a growing concern because they are more likely to miss valuable class time and homework, and have the lowest scores on standardized tests. To help, the Kansas City district provides free lunch and transportation, and offers school uniforms, backpacks, school supplies, food and other items. Families are referred to community resources for housing and other assistance.

ReStart Inc. provides emergency shelter and more permanent housing options, including Rosehill Town Homes. Ground was broken in October on the 33-unit complex, which will open to families next year at Admiral Boulevard and Troost Avenue.

Jeff Lee, program director with Hope Faith Ministries, points out that homeless people and families need services to help prevent them from being on the street again. Hope Faith Ministries as a day center for the poor and less fortunate brings together groups and caring people who provide a wealth of assistance.

“We have a great community in Kansas City that loves to care for people,” Lee said.

Evie Craig, president and chief executive officer of reStart, encourages people to look at the holidays as a time to commit to sustainable activities that will benefit the less fortunate.

“We know that there is a real need and a growing need,” Craig said. “Let’s take that and make it our commitment to creating a better future.”

That’s sound advice. No one should endure homelessness, and especially not young people.

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