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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 1990

CHILDREN STRAIN RESOURCES

July 15, 1990

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In agency jargon, they are referred to as "NANs" children "not abused or neglected," but who nonetheless come under the care of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

The number of these children, the majority of whom are teen-agers, has increased rapidly and is straining an SRS system already overburdened with the investigation of child abuse and neglect cases, according to officials in the Lawrence SRS office.

Jim Baze, SRS section chief in Lawrence, has a number of names for the problem. Among other things, he calls it the "throw-away kid syndrome" or the "divorced teen-ager syndrome."

"They are kids whose parents give up on them because their behavior is so bizarre or so crazy," he said.

Bob Byers, director of child protection services at the Lawrence SRS office, said the number of NAN children brought in by their parents or reported to the office has almost tripled since 1983, the year responsibility for NAN children was switched from court juvenile services to SRS.

SPECIFICALLY, he said, the agency dealt with 83 children that were classified NAN in 1983, and 237 last year.

The problem for SRS comes both because of a shortage of caseworkers to deal with the stream of children being turned over to SRS and the shortage of places to put the children when it's determined the children can't go home again, officials said.

Among reasons cited for SRS becoming involved with the children is that the children are continually truant from school, they frequently run away from home, or they have become "generally out of control," Byers said.

Baze emphasized that with children classified by SRS as NANs, abuse or neglect has not been reported.

And both SRS officials emphasized that while the children involved may have severe emotional problems, they are not "bad" children.

"They are a problem society has created," Byers said. "A parent will bring the kid in and say `She's yours. She won't follow my directions.'"

SOMETIMES, the transfer from parent to SRS occurs right in the front lobby of the SRS building at 619 E. Eighth.

"They actually bring the kid into the waiting room and turn around and leave," Byers said.

Both Baze and Byers blamed much of the problem on lack of parental education and the lack of structure given the child when he or she was young.

"The old cliche `pay me now or pay me later' is awfully simple to say. But it's true. We pay much more for therapy later than parental education early," Baze said.

In the past, Douglas County was seen as a place that offered many services to help with things like parental education, Byers said. But he said many of those services were funded by grants, which have all but dried up.

"Now we beg agencies to do parenting classes," he said.

BYERS SAID that sometimes a parent's fear for his or her own safety is involved.

"When you've got a 6-foot 3-inch, 220-pound child whose mother is 5-foot 3-inches, sometimes parents legitimately fear for their own safety," he said.

Baze said that without the SRS emphasis on trying to work with the children and their families toward a reconciliation, the increase in the number of children needing placement would have risen even more.

"But the flip side is the kids we are getting have more severe problems," he said. "Throw-away kids have a lot of problems."

If family reconciliation fails, SRS officials begin scrambling to find placement for the children. Because of the age of most of the children, a foster home usually is not an option. But with limited space in group homes, finding room there is a problem, especially if the children end up needing long-term care.

CHILDREN who need close supervision or guidance under long-term care is "where the biggest crisis is," Baze said. "We just need more facilities."

Baze said that because of the lack of places to put children, the agency has had to take children to group homes in other counties. And this hinders any attempt at working out the problem between the family and the child because contact between the two is difficult.

"We've often had to place kids at Pittsburg, Kansas City or as far away as Dodge City," he said.

But problems also are evident with short-term placement.

In this area, only one group home for short-term placement is available, The Shelter Inc., which gives first priority to serving Douglas, Franklin and Jefferson counties, but also gets calls from other counties.

Judy Culley, the home's executive director, said the number of children being placed there has increased recently. She said that in 1989, Shelter Inc. served 162 children, up from 135 in 1988.

Culley said her agency has 10 beds and they are often full, so requests for placement from SRS have to be turned down.

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