Number of kids in state custody at all-time high

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The number of Kansas child abuse and neglect cases is increasing at the same time a record number of children are in state custody, though experts differ on what is causing the increase.

There were 7,000 children in the custody of the Kansas Department for Children and Families in June, including 6,168 in out-of-home foster care, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Child advocates, social workers and government officials are struggling to pinpoint a cause for the higher figures, said Bruce Linhos, exive director of the Kansas Children’s Alliance.

“There’s been a lot of discussion, and I don’t think anybody’s come up with any great answers about why the number is growing,” Linhos said.

Some advocates say state policies are straining and stressing poor families, while a DCF spokeswoman attributed the increase to heightened awareness and reporting of child abuse and neglect.

The vast majority of child abuse and neglect claims are deemed “unsubstantiated” by investigators. Ron Nelson, a family law attorney in Lenexa, said it’s not surprising that more than 90 percent are placed into that category. He said that to substantiate a complaint, state law requires a very high standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”

“It is a standard that requires more than a belief that something occurred or that the person who is alleged to have committed the abuse or neglect is the one who committed it,” Nelson said.

Noting that the list of professions required to report suspected abuse and neglect to the state is long, Nelson said some reports might be made “out of an abundance of caution.”

A substantiated claim is not necessary to temporarily remove a child from a dangerous situation, said Theresa Freed, a DCF spokeswoman.

“The rate of removal is much higher than the rate of substantiating,” she said.

In fiscal year 2009, the state investigated 26,543 child-in-need-of-care complaints, yet 94.8 percent were found to be unsubstantiated. In fiscal 2013, the Department for Children and Families investigated 32,130 complaints, and 93.5 percent were unsubstantiated.

Through the first 11 months of fiscal 2014, the department had assigned 33,052 complaints for investigation. Of those, 29,946 had been declared unsubstantiated, and 1,828 had been substantiated. The remaining 1,278 complaints are still open.

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