Problems abound with the way the state deals with foster children, juvenile offenders and other children in need of care. No one is arguing differently.
As John Poertner, a Kansas University associate professor of social welfare, said in a paper he prepared for a task force studying the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services:
"Children in Kansas communities are at risk," he said. "They are experiencing problems ranging from abuse to mental illness. Yet when families go for help they report not getting needed assistance.
"No community agency is responsible for creating circles of affection to meet children's basic needs within the community," he said.
Poertner, who is a member of a task force subcommittee on children's issues, hopes he's devised a plan that will help.
THE PROPOSAL calls for no new money because Poertner doesn't think it would be available anyway. However, the plan calls for major changes.
Poertner wants to create the "Local Children's Authority," which actually would be 31 agencies responsible for the care of children in Kansas communities.
Currently, Poertner said, there is no single agency that has such responsibility. And he said it's impossible for a state agency as large as SRS which he compared to a many-tentacled octopus to do the job.
"It just doesn't work," he said. "It's scattered and very inflexible right now."
Poertner said caring for children in need is "a community problem, like education is a community problem that is done at the local level and done well."
STATE SEN. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, said Poertner's suggestion has received some attention. Winter also is a member of the subcommittee on children.
"The system is broken and needs to be fixed," he said. "The old adage, `if it ain't broke, don't fix it' does not apply."
Poertner said the children's authority should "be given a very specific mandate. They should take responsibility for every kid who is either being harmed in a family situation or is likely to be harmed.
"It might be child abuse or neglect or it might be because of the children's own behavior," he added.
Poertner said every dollar now being allocated to help children in the state should be reallocated to the local authority.
This creates "more flexibility and creativity" in finding solutions to children's problems, he said.
Poertner said the state's role would be reduced to gathering all money available and "providing a single stream of funds to the local authority." The state also would monitor the local authorities to ensure they comply with state and federal funding guidelines.
POERTNER said members of the Local Children's Authority should have an interest in child care, but should not be service providers. The authority would contract with service providers and coordinate those working on a child's case.
He suggested that the 31 judicial districts in Kansas be used as boundaries for each children's authority.
Poertner compared his proposal, which he put together from a variety of sources after studying children's issues in Kansas for 15 years, to a "Foster Care Review Board" now in place in Douglas County.
He said Douglas County District Judge Jean Shepherd asks the review board to study and make recommendations on foster care cases.
Poertner said the Local Children's Authority would not just deal with foster care cases, but with every case in the community involving children.
WINTER SAID the SRS subcommittee plans to continuing studying Poertner's proposal next month. He said "there is strong interest among subcommittee members at this point."
Poertner said a number of people have told him that the changes he proposes are so broad that they'll be difficult to accomplish.
"But doing the changes piecemeal just doesn't get us where we need to go," he said.