A police chief’s assertion that three children were severely abused despite at least a dozen reports to child welfare authorities is another warning that the state of Kansas is failing to adequately protect at-risk children.
“Somewhere, some time, the system broke down,” North Newton, Kan., police chief Randy Jordan said this week, after authorities said an 11-year-old boy, an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl had been found to be severely malnourished and had broken bones and signs of beatings. Doctors described their injuries as signs of child torture.
Jordan told reporters he had learned that multiple suspected abuse reports were made to the Kansas Department for Children and Families but police hadn’t been notified.
A Kansas Highway Patrol officer found the boy walking barefoot in a field on Feb. 5. The boy said he was afraid to go home. Six days later the children, who are Peruvian and were adopted, were placed in protective custody. Their parents, Jim and Paige Nachtigal, are charged with child abuse.
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The case is just the latest red flag about the state’s child protection system.
Closer to Kansas City, 7-year-old Adrian Jones has been missing from his Wyandotte County home for months. Police found human remains inside a barn on the property and fear the boy was murdered and used as food for pigs. Authorities have said they believe the family had contact with child welfare agencies in Kansas and perhaps Missouri.
The Kansas child protection system also faces questions about the death of a 4-year-old Hiawatha, Kan., boy who was killed by his father in 2013, despite warnings that he could be in danger.
And a 14-year-old Sedgwick County girl was removed from her home with serious injuries after authorities received the ninth call about her welfare.
The Legislature in January finally approved an audit of child protection services and selected other functions of the Department for Children and Families. But the review is expected to take about a year.
That’s too long to wait. Officials need to tighten procedures now and work more closely with law enforcement. Police have complained that a state-operated hotline to deal quickly with situations involving at-risk children isn’t always answered and caseworkers are sometimes hard to contact.
Kansas lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to display misplaced priorities.
The Senate this week approved a bill to create a new, elite category of foster parents.
To achieve an elevated status, foster parents would have to be married for at least seven years, abstain from alcohol and tobacco, have one stay-at-home parent and be involved in community activities like church.
Unlike other foster parents who must send children to public schools, the elite group could home-school foster children or select religious or private schools.
The bill could put the state out of compliance with federal regulations regarding schooling, with a financial penalty. And it is estimated to require about $230,000 to hire additional staffers — money the state doesn’t have.
Those are excellent reasons for the House to reject the bill. Kansas doesn’t need another wild experiment. It needs to follow accepted best practices to keep children safe.