Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kansas legislators weigh changes to child-custody laws

Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] KS-Family Court Reform Coalition.


Kansas legislators weigh changes to child-custody laws

The Star’s Topeka correspondent

TOPEKA | Paperwork was supposed to be all that remained before Marilyn and Jim Dilley became their 4-year-old foster son’s legal guardians.

The Olathe couple had been foster parents to more than a dozen children over five years without any problems. They already had adopted one child, and their caseworker said adopting a second would not be a problem.

Then the boy — whom the Dilleys call Jack — got a new caseworker. One day last fall, the caseworker suddenly took Jack away. Marilyn Dilley said that the caseworker told her only that there had been “an allegation.”

It took a month to learn more. Jim Dilley was accused of spanking Jack at a tee-ball practice, and the caseworker said she saw Dilley tap Jack on the head with mail. The Dilleys objected, saying the spanking never happened and calling the tap a harmless gesture, but the appeals failed. They haven’t seen Jack in nearly three months.

“My husband and I were dumbfounded,” Marilyn Dilley said. “…We were told we could adopt this child. We were told he was our son. We were just waiting for the paperwork.”

In light of similar stories, a panel of Kansas lawmakers is looking to tweak the state’s child-custody rules. The Committee on Children’s Issues last week heard from parents and foster parents like the Dilleys who said their children were removed with little or no explanation. Attempts to appeal the decisions went nowhere.

Rep. Mike Kiegerl, an Olathe Republican and the committee’s chairman, said the system needed more accountability. The state should not remove children from their homes without prompt and detailed explanations, he said.

Kiegerl said he had noticed a sharp increase in complaints about the child-custody system. Kiegerl said he thought Kansas’ private foster-care contractors were acting without adequate oversight from the state.

“It’s unbelievable how some of these cases are handled,” he said.

Don Jordan, the state’s secretary for social and rehabilitation services, said it was no surprise that parents complain after the state takes their children.

He said removing a child from a home isn’t a decision that his agency — or its contractors — takes lightly.

“When we do our job exactly right, we will break people’s hearts,” he said.

Kansas in 1996 became the first state to privatize its foster care and adoption system. Jordan said his agency works to ensure contractors follow the state’s rules.

Still, at the hearing last week, Jordan vowed to investigate the questions raised by lawmakers.

Kiegerl said he hoped to make reforming the child-custody system a priority when the Legislature convenes next month.

One possible change would give judges more power to place a child with a particular guardian or relative, even if it goes against a caseworker’s recommendation.

To reach David Klepper, call 785-354-1388 or send e-mail to

Posted on Mon, Dec. 07, 2009 10:46 PM

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