Kansas Supreme Court Justice Melissa Standridge announces at an Aug. 22, 2023, conference in Topeka that a child welfare summit will take place next year. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Supreme Court Justice Melissa Standridge on Tuesday announced plans for a two-day summit next year to brainstorm innovative solutions for problems surrounding child welfare in Kansas.
Standridge said the summit would be a collaboration among the three branches of government, the legal community, child welfare partners and experts, and families and children with lived experience within the foster care system.
She announced the summit during a daylong training program on child welfare law in Topeka, where she was joined by Chief Justice Marla Luckert, Department for Children and Families secretary Laura Howard, Senate President Ty Masterson, and House Majority Leader Chris Croft.
Standridge said her enthusiasm for the summit was driven by her personal experience as a foster and adoptive parent, extensive pro bono work as an attorney for parents, and the application of child welfare law in more than 100 cases as a Court of Appeals judge and Supreme Court justice.
“There’s not much that gets me more energized than helping families and children who are struggling,” Standridge said.
The two-day summit is scheduled for April 15 and 16 in Topeka.
Standridge said it would involve a team from each of the 31 judicial districts in the state, and teams would include a child in need of care judge, child in need of care prosecutor, parent attorney, guardian ad litem, DCF representative, caseworker from a foster care contractor, local law enforcement officer, court-appointed special advocate, Citizen Review Board member and court services officer.
The teams will collaborate with individuals from county health departments, schools, juvenile justice system, mental health providers, managed care providers and the Legislature, as well as former foster kids, biological and foster families, and faith-based organizations.
Luckert said plans for the summit evolved from a phone call she received earlier this year from Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, who wanted to discuss the judicial branch’s perspective on some of the issues she saw in the child welfare system.
“The design of the summit is to bring together people from a broad spectrum of views that are involved with the child welfare system to talk about how we can create better paths forward,” Luckert said. “Having all perspectives at the table is critical.”
Masterson said he hoped to set aside the dynamics of the 2024 election year and find bipartisan solutions.
The Andover Republican made Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s failure to fix the foster care system a talking point during last year’s gubernatorial campaign. But on Tuesday, he blamed “the media” for using foster care “as a political football.”
“The tragedy we have is these things become politically engaged,” Masterson said. “It really is a tragedy, because these kids, they don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, or if your title is senator, governor, chief, it doesn’t matter. They need help. That’s where the focus needs to be.”
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