Listening, learning: Sen. Moran representative discusses child welfare issues

June 2019 · Ministry News

Substance use, sex trafficking, child immigrants, and family preservation were among the topics of discussion during a visit to Wichita by Nathan Heiman, senior foreign policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran.

Hosted by The Very Reverend Robert N. Smith, Heiman toured the Saint Francis Ministries offices at The Mount on June 3, 2019, before sitting down with Fr. Smith and staff to discuss ways in which the senator and Saint Francis might continue to work together to improve outcomes for at-risk children and families.

Clinical Director Vickie McArthur began the dialogue by noting that although Saint Francis and the State of Kansas have made significant progress in identifying victims of human trafficking, more work is needed to provide protective services and therapeutic programs to survivors. Saint Francis has trained 15 people to serve on rapid response teams, which assess youth identified by law enforcement as possible victims of sex trafficking, she said. Those teams have conducted about 270 assessments since 2014, 60 percent of which provided confirmation of trafficking.

McArthur said Saint Francis restructured the way therapy is provided to address the mental health needs of survivors by providing clinicians that follow them wherever they are placed within the state. Using Victims of Crime Act dollars to fund traveling clinicians, Saint Francis has been able to reduce mental health placements by 75 percent. Additional funding, however, would help Saint Francis to better serve the therapeutic and security needs of trafficking survivors. Sen. Moran is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which is responsible for VOCA funding.

Clinical Services Director Amanda Pfannenstiel also talked about funding during her discussion of substance use and its affect on Kansas families. Noting that Kansas ranks 18th among the states in substance use-related removals from the home, Pfannenstiel said most federal dollars are directed toward the child, rather than the parents.

“Systems don’t do well with treating substance-using families,” she said. “That’s unfortunate because children coming into out-of-home placement almost always have at least one parent that is using. Those children will also stay longer in out-of-home placement than children from homes where their parents are not using.”

Yet, Pfannenstiel said, few federal funds are allocated to treat the whole family. Parents are often left to handle their own treatment services.

McArthur said it was critical to examine ways to support families as they’re going through recovery. “It’s not easy, and it’s not a straight line,” she said.

“It sounds like there was an oversight on the law’s part by not focusing on the parents,” said Heiman, adding that it appears the law address the child as the innocent in the situation and there may be additional concerns to address around parental needs.

Yeni Telles,associate director of international ministries, briefed Heiman on the work Saint Francis is doing in immigrant child and family services, refugee resettlement, and Central America. She shared how Saint Francis is working with local partners to build early childhood education, women’s empowerment, family preservation, and justice enterprise programs for communities. Other programs are being explored and developed for children and families in Guatemala and Honduras.

“Back when Fr. Bob Mize started Saint Francis 75 years ago, there were no systems in place to take care of kids, so he founded the Boys’ Home,” said Fr. Smith. “We asked ourselves, if he were to start something today, where would he see need? The U.S. has a system in place, and we work to support the children and families here, of course. But in our vision to transform lives and systems, we had to ask how we partner and walk with people in places with no systems of care.”

“I understand how sometimes your jobs can be frustrating, but how fulfilling it can be, too,” said Heiman. “I might work on legislation, but I hardly ever get to see the direct impact it has on lives. So, I’m kind of envious of what you all do. Thank you for your work.”

“I’m happy to go back and tell our staff that works closely on these issues how important your work is to us. We want to be able to use Sen. Moran’s position, so if there’s something we can be doing, either on your work in the state or in Central America, I want you to know we’re here to work for you.”