Kansas child welfare system impacted by juvenile justice changes

October 2019 · Ministry News

A Saint Francis Ministries leader testified this week before a Kansas legislative committee to ask them to strengthen the intersections between juvenile justice and the child welfare system.

Rachel Marsh, Saint Francis vice president of advocacy, testified Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight. She was joined by other child welfare leaders to discuss the implementation of Senate Bill 367, passed in 2016 by the Kansas Legislature.

Rachel Marsh, Vice President of Advocacy

The bill was passed as part of an important move to focus intensive system responses on the highest-risk juveniles in the juvenile justice system, and to restrict the use of out-of-home placement by shifting resources toward evidence-based alternatives that allow youth to be supervised safely while remaining at home.

It has, however, had unintended consequences that have significantly impacted the child welfare system. The changes as a result of SB367 have factored into the increased numbers of Kansas children in foster care, increased safety concerns in the child welfare system and increased staff turnover.

“Saint Francis Ministries supports the goals of and successes of SB367 in reducing placement in detention and increasing community-based support,” Marsh told the committee. “Today, there is more work to do to implement SB367 in a manner that ensures effective corrections and prevention services are available to all youth, including those in foster care and those at risk of entering foster care.

“From the perspective of Saint Francis, it should not matter what label a youth has (juvenile offender, child in need of care, or crossover youth) – what should matter is that the youth and his or her caregivers can safely receive timely, evidence-informed interventions likely to improve that youth’s well-being and chances for long term success,” she added.

Marsh said she appreciates the willingness of the committee to hear about the challenges resonating through child welfare. Directly after the hearing, she flew to Seattle to attend the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative conference at the invitation of the Kansas Department of Corrections.

“We were honored to be invited to the JDAI conference to explore ways to work across systems to ensure each child we serve has access to the right services, in the right place, at the right time,” Marsh said. “We are committed to the safety and well-being of all children in our care and believe they all deserve the opportunity to receive services and support that will help them achieve healing and hope for their futures.”

Marsh’s testimony is below and can be heard on the audio recording of the hearing at about 1:20.

Implications of Juvenile Justice Reform on the Child Welfare System

Joint Committee on Corrections & Juvenile Justice Oversight

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Chair Jennings, Vice Chair Baumgardner, and Members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to provide a child welfare perspective on the impact of juvenile justice reform in Kansas. My name is Rachel Marsh, Vice President of Advocacy for Saint Francis Ministries.

Saint Francis is a mission-driven nonprofit, centered in the Episcopal tradition, that has served Kansas children and families since 1945. Saint Francis currently provides child welfare case management services to approximately 2,000 children in Family Preservation services in 75 counties and to approximately 3,450 children in Reintegration – Foster Care in 68 counties. Saint Francis also currently provides a variety of youth residential services including a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility and a Qualified Residential Treatment Program; substance abuse treatment to youth and families; and outpatient behavioral health services in Kansas. Saint Francis leaders greatly appreciate the efforts of legislators in considering the impact of SB367 on youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

Child welfare context

The child welfare system covers a range of assessment, planning, and intervention services from primary prevention of abuse and neglect; through family strengthening services to divert the need for children to enter foster care; and if a child is removed from the home, to foster care, adoption, and independent living. There are a few key facts to know about our child welfare system to provide context for the discussion of SB367.

  • The child welfare code defines a Child in Need of Care (CINC) in many ways; including, a child “without adequate parental care, control, or subsistence…” Currently, a youth can be adjudicated as a CINC and placed in CINC foster care using this definition, squarely as a result of juvenile offender or criminogenic behaviors.
  • Case length time limits present in the juvenile justice system do not translate to the child welfare system. Once a child is placed in CINC foster care, that child may remain there until his parents demonstrate improved parenting capacity and the child’s behaviors are deemed appropriate to return home.
  • Child welfare defines success through performance measures focusing on safety, permanency, and child well-being. Child welfare asks whether a child is safe from abuse and neglect, whether the family is strengthened in terms of parenting ability, whether a child has long-term positive adult relationships, whether a child has a stable family home, and whether a child’s key developmental, educational, and health needs are being met.
  • Mirroring one of the key goals of SB367, child welfare similarly seeks to safely reduce the need for out-of-home placement for youth when possible. Safely reducing the need for out-of-home placement in state custody is a key goal of federal and state child welfare initiatives such as the recent Family First Prevention Services Act and longstanding Family Preservation and other foster care prevention services.
  • Mirroring another key goal of SB367, child welfare similarly seeks to provide community-based services in family or family like settings in order to safely reduce the need for out-of-home placement.

Preliminary data – youth identified as crossover youth requested by DCF/KHI workgroup:

As a starting point in considering the scope of our discussion, Saint Francis identified 410 names of youth receiving Family Preservation or Reintegration Foster Care Services, using the following preliminary “crossover youth” definition:

Youth in Family Preservation and Reintegration services age 10 and over who:

  • have had law enforcement calls for behaviors that could result in criminal justice charges, or
  • have had law enforcement calls for repeated runaway behaviors, or
  • were referred post-juvenile justice system involvement (case closure, probation violation, caregiver refusal to pick up from juvenile intake and assessment), or
  • were referred resulting from parent inability or unwillingness to manage child behaviors, or
  • are involved in the juvenile justice system through intermediate intervention services or diversion, or
  • have an open juvenile justice case (example pending charges, pending disposition, on probation).

Using one particular date – July 31, 2019 – Saint Francis was providing Reintegration Foster Care services to 253 crossover youth and Family Preservation services to 157 crossover youth. DCF/KHI will be providing demographic information on the population of crossover youth statewide in a report before the legislature prior to session; Saint Francis will be providing information as requested related to these identified youth.

Preliminary data – foster care referrals from juvenile justice:

As of January 2018, SB367 restricted juvenile court sentencing authority to place a child in the custody of KDOC except for detention eligible cases. Therefore, the only option today for out-of-home placement for a youth a judge does not believe is safe at home is CINC foster care.

Starting in July of 2017, Saint Francis teams began to notice an increase in the number of youths referred to foster care after contact with the juvenile justice system. Since that date, we have received at least 160 referrals to foster care directly from juvenile justice involvement, including juvenile intake and assessment contact, law enforcement involvement, juvenile justice case closure, caregiver refusal to pick up from detention, or probation violation. The 160 referrals described here are not all “crossover youth” broadly conceived, but rather youths whom case managers have identified as presenting with serious behaviors impacting ability to find safe and appropriate placement, engage in needed treatment, and/or whom have engaged in harm to others or property since entering care.

Youth are entering foster care with the following types of arrests or charges; and frequently with multiple arrests or charges:

  • Aggravated indecent liberties with a child
  • Battery of law enforcement officer
  • Theft of property or services
  • Criminal Threat
  • Auto theft
  • Robbery
  • Interference with a law enforcement officer
  • Battery
  • Assault/Felony aggravated assault
  • Criminal use of weapons
  • Theft of a firearm
  • Criminal damage to property/Felony criminal damage to property
  • Vandalism
  • Possession of marijuana
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia
  • Possession of alcohol
  • Breaking and entering
  • Interference with ankle bracelet
  • Burglary with intent to steal firearm
  • Arson
  • Criminal trespassing
  • Indecent liberties with a child

Other circumstances surrounding youth with these types of charges entering foster care:

  • Expelled from school
  • Threatened to kill caregivers
  • Tried to kill caregivers with knives, blunt objects
  • Carried a gun to school and threatened a teacher
  • Stabbing another youth
  • Frequent fire-starting behaviors
  • Plans to kill parents and siblings
  • Violent behavior towards caregivers
  • Running away
  • Caregiver fears for personal safety or safety of others
  • Meth, marijuana, and alcohol use
  • Juvenile case length ending; treatment unsuccessful
  • On probation
  • Foster care placement as result of probation violation
  • Aggressive to siblings and animals
  • Gang affiliation
  • Minimal progress with sex offender treatment program
  • Selling drugs at school
  • High speed chase with law enforcement
  • Stole multiple guns
  • Referral directly after release from detention
  • Prior placements include multiple assaults to staff causing injury

Information sharing and integration of services before foster care

Referrals without cross-system communication: Routinely, children are referred to out of home placement after extensive involvement with law enforcement, juvenile intake, or juvenile court, but as the child’s behaviors escalate, the child’s caregiver ultimately refuses to accept the child back into the family home. It is at this point that DCF receives information on the family situation — a few hours or a day before a child is ordered into foster care. Unfortunately, Saint Francis has seen a number of instances after a child has been ordered removed from the home where – from a child welfare perspective – steps could have been taken to maintain the child in the home. These options include effective engagement with a noncustodial parent or relative, the option of temporary respite care, or the support of evidence-based in-home interventions.

Referrals with cross-system communication: In instances where DCF does have the opportunity to intervene with Family Preservation or other family services, we have mixed responses. Family Preservation leaders report that where youth and families are supported with evidence-based interventions such as Functional Family Therapy offered through the juvenile justice system, a child is much more likely to remain safely at home. On the other hand, Family Preservation leaders also report that some families have become “burned out” before those services are offered. For these families, parents have lost hope and do not have the desire or capacity to engage in services to maintain the child at home.

Systems response to crossover youth in foster care

When a child experiencing challenges with physical aggression, fire-starting, sexual behavior problems, substance use disorders, runaway behaviors, gang involvement, or other juvenile justice issues enters foster care, the consequences of that child’s behaviors also enter the foster care system. Placement out of home in foster care does not inherently extinguish a child’s juvenile offender behaviors, especially if those behaviors are rooted in a long-term trauma response.

A growing concern for Saint Francis Ministries is ensuring safety for caregivers, foster siblings, providers, educators, and staff who are caring for or residing with youth exhibiting dangerous behaviors in foster homes, in residential/group settings, while being transported from one activity to the next, at school, when expelled from school, in community settings, and in child welfare offices.

Law enforcement response. Implementation of SB367 across all communities has varied. One change we have seen is the law enforcement response to misdemeanor battery-type behaviors such as hitting, punching, choking, biting, kicking, threatening harm, or property damage – if done without a weapon. In multiple of our Saint Francis offices and foster homes, law enforcement officers have told us they believe there is little they can do about these behaviors after these incidents. Multiple officers have told our workers the child will not have any consequences and therefore there is no point in calling to report the behavior. In these instances, we do request the law enforcement officer issue a written notice to appear to the child.

Juvenile intake and assessment response. Not uncommonly, law enforcement will take a child to juvenile intake and assessment after a call is made for more serious behaviors. Calls might range from selling drugs, stealing cars, breaking into Saint Francis offices, putting a chair or a fire extinguisher through a wall, smashing glass doors and windows, to putting a worker in a choke hold, striking a transportation driver while driving down the road, attempting to strangle a worker or caregiver, or putting a gang “hit” on a worker. The most common response we have seen from juvenile intake and assessment is to call Saint Francis within a few hours to let us know the child needs to be picked up. We have been advised these types of behaviors do not present a risk to safety of others because the children score low risk on the detention risk assessment. In some communities, juvenile intake and assessment practice has been to take no action and make no recommendations because the child is in foster care.

Charging response. Charges for any alleged crime can take weeks or months (assuming a child is not placed in detention). In situations when a youth’s criminogenic behaviors have escalated over time, we tend to see an improvement in a youth’s compliance with requests to cooperate with placement and treatment services after charges are filed.

Impact of juvenile justice reform on the foster care system

Placement capacity consequences. As you know, the number of children in the Kansas foster care system has increased faster than the number of placement alternatives. One basic consequence of placing an increasing number of youths in foster care that cannot room-share with other youth for safety reasons is that the other open “bed” is not available. Another consequence for providers who face the expense of property damage, or simple fear of physical safety, is burnout and closing homes. We have worked with state agencies, legislators, and providers to advocate for a continuum of care capable of meeting the needs of the crossover youth population with higher needs (see below).

Cost of care shifted to child welfare system. Saint Francis has incurred thousands of dollars of property damage and workman comp claims due to property damage and worker injury. We are in constant communication with foster homes and residential providers who are experiencing similar concerns. We have spent millions of foster care dollars to do our best to secure appropriate treatment and provide safety for all youth in our care (see below).

Child welfare staff turnover. Saint Francis workers who have been assaulted, threatened, had their cars stolen, had their personal belongings stolen, and who do not feel there is an effective response in their communities, feel they have no choice but to resign. Our agency leaders are now facing the common question, “Is there anything I can do to protect my own safety? If a child starts hitting me or beating me, do I just let them?” We have taken multiple steps to attempt to ensure staff safety and security (see below).

Safety risks to all foster children. Given the realities of child welfare limitations – we are not law enforcement officers, we are not authorized to use physical restraint except in very narrow circumstances, we are placing youth in group homes with other foster youth – other foster children have been victimized and injured by youth who entered foster care after juvenile justice reform. It should be noted that one of the goals of SB367 was to keep low-risk offenders separated from high-risk offenders. As SB367 has been implemented, today Kansas mixes moderate and not-yet-adjudicated high-risk offenders with the general foster care population.

We have responded by taking many steps to attempt to ensure the safety of foster youth in every possible circumstance (see below).

Outcomes for crossover youth in foster care

Higher risk crossover youth in foster care currently experience alarming levels of placement instability, along with a resulting lack of consistent access to mental health care and lack of educational progression. Additionally, these youth are entering foster care as teenagers but early indicators suggest they are not achieving permanency; instead, they are aging out of foster care. Meanwhile, other youth are escalating from lower level offenses to felony offenses while in care, or moving directly to the adult criminal population at the age of eighteen.

Gathering specific data points on identified crossover youth is underway by the DCF/KHI data working group.

Systems and program response by Saint Francis Ministries:

Saint Francis Ministries has taken steps within our operations, in our local communities, with our child welfare partners and providers, and with DCF and other state agencies, to bring solutions to serving the crossover youth population in the state regardless of label.

Adapting and developing innovative foster care operations:

  • Mandt training. In offices where we experienced multiple incidents of out-of-control behaviors, key staff were identified as safety responders and received Mandt Training. Mandt is a comprehensive, integrated approach to preventing, de-escalating, and if necessary, intervening when the behavior of an individual poses a threat of harm to themselves and/or others.
  • Sight and sound policies. For certain youth identified as high risk, Saint Francis adopted sight and sound policies to ensure these youth remain in both sight and sound range by staff at all times when in the direct supervision of a Saint Francis staff member.
  • Safety teams. For offices experiencing safety concerns, Saint Francis developed safety teams to review protocols and ensure appropriate communication and training within the office managing safety concerns.
  • Security officers. For offices experiencing routine or ongoing behavior management incidents, Saint Francis employs safety officers or contracts with off duty law enforcement to provide support.
  • Guidelines for interacting with community partners. Saint Francis does not want to escalate minor incidents into major incidents, or push youth further into the juvenile justice system. We are currently developing more uniform guidelines for interacting with law enforcement and other stakeholders to ensure staff are prepared and trained to seek the right support at the right time with the goal of child safety and well-being.
  • Alternative schools. A number of crossover youth in care have been expelled from school. Saint Francis contracts with McAdams Academy in Wichita to provide an alternative day school, which has provided a great deal of support for these youth.
  • One-to-one attendant care. Saint Francis contracts with ComCare and Behavior Link in Wichita to access one-to-one, full day attendant care to youth who are not able to remain in placement or have no long-term placement. This is especially a critical service during the summer months.
  • Day programs. Saint Francis contracts with Pixius in Wichita to provide day services for youth who cannot be unsupervised, but who do not need one-to-one care.
  • Data systems. Saint Francis data systems will need to be significantly modified to monitor and provide trend analysis for crossover youth issues. From behavior incidents, to engagement with law enforcement, to response by juvenile intake, to charges, or juvenile justice sentencing, to targeted interventions, we are in ongoing communication with our performance improvement and data teams to improve our capacity to be datadriven as we design services to better meet the needs of crossover youth.
  • Reconsidering risk and well-being. Clinically, we are exploring how to develop appropriate differential responses to identify and intervene more effectively when criminogenic behaviors such as aggression and credible threats are used by a youth to avoid compliance with child welfare interventions, such as refusing placement or refusing medication. From a child welfare perspective, when are swift and certain consequences – with the backbone structure of the juvenile justice system – necessary for a child’s long-term well-being?
  • Training. We requested the Cognitive Interaction Skills Training that was provided as a “train the trainers” by KDOC to all DCF child welfare grantees earlier this week. I will be attending the 2019 Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative conference starting today.
  • Enhanced secure transport. We have expanded our use of secure transport to ensure safety for children who have placed themselves and their drivers at risk on Kansas highways.
  • Facility security. In offices where property destruction occurred on multiple occasions, we have redesigned offices for enhanced safety and security; such as replacing certain glass doors with metal doors.
  • “Heads up” response. We have developed a near-immediate response by our Intake teams when we receive a notice about a crossover youth coming into foster care, to explore the option of continued placement at home with family services where possible.
  • Provider networks. Ongoing efforts to build provider capacity to meet the needs of crossover youth. Most currently, Saint Francis partnered with community stakeholders to develop access to beds managed by Sedgwick County Corrections for crossover youth in foster care with recent arrests.

Developing new programs designed to serve crossover youth in the child welfare system:

  • Secure care. Saint Francis opened a secure care unit for youth in Wichita due to a shortage of secure care beds in Kansas. Most of the youth placed there have both running and aggressive behaviors.
  • Family First Prevention Services Act – Family Centered Treatment (FCT). Saint Francis reviewed the increasing rate of older youth entering foster care due to child behavior problems, and submitted a grant to provide FCT to our service areas. FCT “is extremely cost effective and stabilizes traumatized youth and families. In addition, FCT is one of few home-based treatment models that has extensive experience with families and youth who move between the child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice systems, otherwise known as ‘crossover youth.’” Providing FCT in-home will enhance our organizational capacity to better meet the needs of crossover youth out-of-home.
  • Juvenile Justice Foster Homes. In 2016 Saint Francis expanded services to include juvenile justice foster homes. We have maintained these homes for use today for crossover youth.

Community engagement:

  • Saint Francis leaders have been in ongoing conversations at the local level with law enforcement, juvenile intake, district and county attorneys, mental health, and other community stakeholders to strengthen systems response to behaviors impacting child well-being and public safety in our communities.


Saint Francis Ministries supports the goals of and successes of SB367 in reducing placement in detention and increasing community-based support. Today, there is more work to do to implement SB367 in a manner that ensures effective corrections and prevention services are available to all youth, including those in foster care and those at risk of entering foster care. From the perspective of Saint Francis, it should not matter what label a youth has (juvenile offender, child in need of care, or crossover youth) — what should matter is that the youth and his or her caregivers can safely receive timely, evidence-informed interventions likely to improve that youth’s well-being and chances for long term success.

At this time, Kansas has the opportunity to strengthen the intersections between juvenile justice and child welfare systems to meet the unique needs of the crossover youth population regardless of label, allocate available resources accordingly, and ensure safety for children, youth, caregivers, social workers, foster parents, and community partners.

I am happy to stand for questions at the appropriate time.

Rachel Y. Marsh

Saint Francis Ministries