Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

State Faces Questions on Foster Oversight

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

State Faces Questions on Foster Oversight

Article excerpt

More than 70 children are missing from the state foster care system, the contractors that operate the system said Tuesday.

Among those 70 children are three sisters who have been missing from a Tonganoxie foster home for 45 days, police said. The girls' disappearance raised concerns Tuesday among members of the Legislature's child welfare task force, who said state officials appeared unaware the girls were gone.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, raised concern during a child welfare task force meeting about how the Department for Children and Families tracks missing children. She said Secretary Phyllis Gilmore did not know the girls were missing.

"DCF ... said they knew nothing about it," Kelly said.

Kelly said she was "flabbergasted."

"I used to work in this world years and years ago, and I understand that where you have teenagers you will have runners, and they will go and they will do this kind of stuff," Kelly said. "But the fact that the person in charge of the wards of the state has no idea that these kids are missing from her custody is just astounding to me."

Gilmore said she could not discuss specifics of the case.

"We can't discuss the specific case, so we are not able to say what we know or what we don't know," Gilmore said.

Tonganoxie police believe Emily, 15, Aimee, 14, and Christin Utter, 12, ran away from their foster home in late August, Chief Jeff Brandau said. Investigators followed several tips, which have indicated the girls are likely in the Kansas City area, but "nothing has panned out," he said. The girls could be as far south as Joplin, Mo., or as far west as Perry. Great-aunt Debbie Miller last saw the girls Aug. 26.

"You heard everyone expressing that it is extremely concerning and worrisome, especially when many of them are teenage girls in light of the issues surrounding human trafficking," Gilmore said.

Miller said she reported the girls' missing and the search began just a couple hours after the sisters left.

"I hope the girls see all this media attention and see how much that we miss them and how much we love them and that we just want them home," Miller said.

Kansas' foster care system is run by contractors KVC Health Systems and Saint Francis Community Services. Between the two, about 75 children are missing, company representatives said. The system is overseen by the DCF.

Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, said the Tonganoxie girls were in KVC's care.

Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer for KVC, said the organization sent DCF monthly information on missing youth, but he wasn't sure whether those reports all reached Gilmore's level.

"What we provide is a 30-day update on all action items for missing youth, so the state does know what we've done for each of those 38 youth," Anderson said.

Gilmore said some of those reports may go to regional DCF staff members. …

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