The leader of the Kansas child welfare system said Friday the state’s foster care contractors will face fines if they continue to have children sleep in their offices in the aftermath of a teenager being charged with raping a 13-year-old at an Olathe welfare site.
Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, made the penalty public during a meeting of the state’s child welfare system task force amid questions and concerns about the earlier sexual assault.
The price of the fines have not been set.
Michael Anthony Hamer, 18, was charged on Sept. 12 with rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14. The incident was reported in May at the KVC Behavioral Healthcare office in Olathe, according to a police report.
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The incident only became public after it was reported by The Star in September. The news surfaced as Kansas lawmakers and child advocates had voiced concerns about the safety of keeping children overnight at offices run by the state’s two private child welfare contractors.
Children sleeping in offices overnight is unacceptable, Meier-Hummel said in her testimony to the task force.
“None of this will be fixed overnight, although I really wish I could make that happen,” she said.
Children in Kansas have been kept overnight in the contractors offices because of a shortage of foster care beds.
The contractors will also face a citation against their child placing agency license if a child sleeps overnight in an office, Meier-Hummel said.
The fines sparked criticism from one of the state’s foster care contractors.
KVC Behavioral Healthcare said in an email “the system desperately needs resources, not fines.”
They added that they are “already losing unsustainable amounts of money each month to keep children out of offices.”
“Thinking that financial penalties will improve an overwhelmed, underfunded child welfare system is counterproductive,” KVC spokeswoman Jenny Kutz said in the email.
Saint Francis, the state’s other foster care contractor, said in a statement “what we need most in the child welfare system is more dedicated foster parents.”
“Saint Francis always has – and always will – work hand-in-glove with the Secretary to make sure the needs of children are met – especially the needs of high-acuity children,” the statement said. “But to be clear: The ultimate solution won’t come from DCF or the contractors alone.”
KVC received regulatory violations and a corrective action plan was put in place following the May assault, Meier-Hummel said during her testimony. She added that the fines will occur each time the contractors let a child stay overnight in an office.
The Star’s Laura Bauer contributed to this report