Three hots and a cot are usually what await prisoners.
But Wyandotte County Sheriff Donald Ash is troubled that he is forced to give children similar accommodations — no jail cells, but cots and air mattresses in the department’s offices.
It happens with horrendous regularity after a child has been removed from a home, usually because of suspected neglect or abuse. The county lacks enough foster homes licensed for such emergency care. And Paces, a shelter that can accept children in such crises, has only four beds. So the sheriff’s office sometimes keeps children during the 72-hour period before a judge decides the next step. No playground. No real bed. Just deputies trying to make do with office space.
“They are already in trauma,” Ash said of the children. “So everything that we can’t provide for them is more trauma.”
The situation mocks the term “protective custody.”
Ash was part of a kickoff luncheon Friday for acampaign to raise $1.1 million
to build a center that could accommodate 10 children every day. The Hall Family Foundation jump-started the campaign with a $150,000 donation. The Unified Government made land available far below market price. The location is confidential, similar to how domestic violence shelters are hidden.
Within one recent week, Ash’s office had more than 20 children pass through. That was not unusual. Last year, about 100 children had to be sent to shelters in surrounding counties. Deputies or social workers drive them as far as Wichita.
That’s problematic because children are further from the social workers, prosecutors and law enforcement who need to interview them, said Allison McLain, director of fund development for Wyandot Inc. And it’s even more difficult for the children when siblings are separated. Foster homes willing and licensed to accept older children who need emergency care are especially hard to come by.
Deputies have taken children to fireworks displays when they were stuck in the sheriff’s office over the July 4 holiday. They’ve bought clothes for those who needed something clean to wear.
The slogan for the campaign is appropriate. It tugs at generous pocketbooks to fund the shelter for one simple reason:A Place to be Safe. Because They’re Kids.
Donations can be sent to Paces-Wyandot Center, P.O. Box 171578, Kansas City, KS 66117-0578, or go toPacesKidsShelter.org