By Madeline Fox/Kansas News Service
Kansas’ child welfare agency wants to hire a second full-time investigator to track down kids missing from the state’s foster system.
The move comes in the wake of reports last October, when the Department for Children and Families was run by Phyllis Gilmore, that the agency had lost track of three sisters who’d run away from a Tonganoxie foster home.
Since Gina Meier-Hummel took over the secretary role in December, she has received daily reports on the number of children in state care who had run away, been taken or otherwise disappeared.
DCF is taking that one step further by requesting $150,000 for its annual budget to hire a second investigator to bring back missing kids. Currently, DCF has one full-time investigator, but the money the agency is requesting would bring a second person on board, and give both a dedicated travel budget.
This is the first time DCF has asked to set aside money for travel to specifically look for runaway youth, according to DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed. More than $90,000 of the requested amount would go toward travel for the two investigators and any other staff who might be needed to bring missing kids home.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, who brought DCF’s budget requests to the House’s budget-writing committee, said travel costs are expected to be high because travel is often last-minute and costly. When the state locates missing children, a DCF employee would usually have to catch a plane or otherwise hurry to get to the child before he or she runs or is taken elsewhere.
Some lawmakers on the House Appropriations committee balked at the requested amount, but ultimately agreed to fund a smaller amount for this year, and the full $150,000 for successive years.
The number of kids missing from care has varied since this time last year, averaging 82 kids missing per month and peaking in November, at 93 children.