More than 70 children have been reported missing in the past week in north-east Kansas, as lawmakers admit the city is gripped by a “child abduction epidemic.”
According to reports, the epidemic of missing children began after three sisters went missing from a northeast Kansas foster home on Aug. 26.
Since then, an unprecedented number of missing children cases have been reported in recent weeks, with the situation becoming critical in the last few days.
Lawmakers have also raised concerns that Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore is claiming to be completely “unaware” that children are being abducted at epidemic rates in the state’s north-east.
The Witchita Eagle reports: Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, told a child welfare task force meeting that when she raised the missing children with DCF on Tuesday, the agency knew nothing.
“I am flabbergasted,” Kelly said. “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.”
“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.”
After the meeting, Gilmore said she could not discuss the three missing sisters, ages 15, 14 and 12, who police think fled their foster home in Tonganoxie.
The Kansas City Star reported on their case earlier Tuesday, prompting Kelly to question Gilmore and others.
“You heard everyone expressing that it is extremely concerning and worrisome, especially when many of them are teenage girls in the light of the issues surrounding human trafficking,” Gilmore said.
But she also said that in many cases, children have left to go back to their biological families or other people with whom they have a relationship in order to try to not be in foster care.
Gilmore referenced one task force member’s comment that at times children who have fled will call to say they are safe but won’t say where they are.
“So it isn’t always a tragedy but some certainly can be and that’s why we have to take it all very seriously,” Gilmore said.
KVC Kansas, one of the foster care contractors, said it has 38 missing children.
The other company, Saint Francis Community Services, said 36 are missing in its system.
Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer at KVC Kansas, one of the contractors, told a child welfare task force that the number of missing represented about 1 percent of the foster care population and is in line with the national average.
Still, he acknowledged the contractor could do a better job.
“I don’t know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should,” Anderson said.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexa, said she was shocked at the number of missing children.
Even if the number missing is in line with the national average, she said, it is still too many.
She also said it was “unbelievable” that Gilmore “didn’t know” about the missing children epidemic.
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