Wichita One grandparent told of how her grandchildren lived with her for four months after they were taken away from their mother, only to be traumatized by state agents who came to the grandmother's home and forcefully removed the children from her, too.
The children were put in foster homes, and granddaughter later was molested and got pregnant in foster care, the grandmother told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Others testified Monday about children who were returned to drug-addicted fathers or who suffered abuse as a result of a system that didn't make grandparents a high enough priority when determining the fate of a child in a troubled household.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, has sponsored a bill that would automatically make grandparents interested parties in cases when their grandchildren have been removed from their homes.
Under current law, grandparents receive notice of and status to be heard in such proceedings only when they request it. Faust-Goudeau said the measure "is pretty simple, allowing grandparents to be notified without a lot of additional hassle."
"We as a state want to keep families together and keep kids out of foster care," she said.
The bill is a top priority of the "Silver Haired Legislature," a group elected by seniors statewide to help guide state policies on the elderly, the Wichita Eagle reported.
Two members of that group testified Monday in favor of the bill, citing a study that showed more than 17,000 grandparents were the primary caregivers for their grandchildren in 2006. Silver Haired Legislature Speaker Jim Snyder said that number undoubtedly grew during the recession.
"It's important that grandparents who are taking care of the children have the notification and the automatic status as interested parties," Snyder said.
The names of the grandparents who testified are being withheld to protect the children's identities.
As the hearing became more emotional and began to drag on, committee Chairman Tim Owens repeatedly urged the grandparents to keep their comments short and focused on the bill being considered.
The Overland Park Republican — an attorney who specializes in family law — said he had represented more than 1,000 children in court cases and served as a judge pro-tem in some parental-rights cases.
"There's always two sides to every story," he said.
He acknowledged that family law cases are difficult to deal with and said he understood why the grandparents who testified were emotional. He said he plans to have the committee vote later this week on whether to send the measure to the full Senate.
"I think it's going to pass here in the Senate," Faust-Goudeau said. "We'll see how it goes in the House."