After story of autistic boy’s death brings attention, foster mom urges Kansans to call legislators

By: - June 8, 2021 11:04 am

Tina Miller holds a photograph of Aaron Carter, an autistic foster child who died after leaving her home in Comanche County. (Jeff Tuttle for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Tina Miller has heard from families all over the state following publication last week of a Kansas Reflector investigation into the death of a 6-year-old foster child with autism.

Miller, a Comanche County resident who has provided foster care to dozens of kids and adopted three, is telling other concerned foster parents to call their state representatives and senators and ask if they are willing to help. Maybe if lawmakers hear from enough people, she reasons, they will pay more attention to problems surrounding the Kansas foster care system.

“You just wonder, why are these people representing us not doing anything? Why don’t they?” Miller said. “They see the seriousness of it, and they take notice of what’s happening.”

“Obviously,” she added, “they don’t see the need. I mean, somebody has to be responsible for all these kids.”

Tina and Jamie Miller took care of Aaron Carter, who was diagnosed with autism, for three years before social workers in December recommended him for adoption by a Wichita couple. The Millers expressed concerns that the Wichita couple were unprepared to handle a special needs child, and two months later, Carter was found dead. The cause of death is unknown.

After the boy’s death, the Department for Children and Families cited the Millers for an improper action they took with Carter in 2017. Then, after they began speaking out about the boy’s death, they lost their license as foster parents. The Millers want to launch a nonprofit called Aaron’s Voice to advocate for changes in the foster care system.

Autistic boy didn’t have to die, say jilted Kansas foster parents who had to bury him

Tina Miller said she has heard from about 25 foster families who expressed condolences and told her to keep fighting for change.

“All of them have their stories of retaliation of intimidation of kids being yanked out of their their homes and put back into abusive situations, which we’ve had too, and then they’re abused and removed. And it happens multiple times,” Miller said.

She expressed gratitude for Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who worked this session to win support for a foster care oversight committee. The committee members haven’t yet been announced, but the panel is expected to begin meeting later this year. Concannon has said the committee should hold hearings on issues raised by the Millers.

Other lawmakers have been less helpful. Aside from debating the creation of a new position to investigate foster care complaints, the Legislature showed little interest in improving the child welfare system in Kansas.

Miller said she grew frustrated with lawmakers as she tuned into proceedings for the first time.

“I guess the irritating thing is you see things in there that everybody’s so concerned about — passing bills about what time Sunday beer sales should end — and it’s like, what are we doing?” Miller said. “We’ve lost our focus on where we’re supposed to be. I guess until this happened I didn’t really notice what we were doing in Topeka.”

Kansas residents can find contact information for their lawmakers by navigating the Legislature’s website, or by using Kansas Reflector’s searchable database.

“We live in a great state. This is the heartland. We have those morals and values,” Miller said. “But we’ve lost touch with the people that represent us, and we’ve got to get our voices back and be heard. It’s not going to happen unless people start calling. It’s not that hard.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.