Kansas family struggles to adopt foster daughter, says system is broken

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TOPEKA — Nicole DeHaven broke down in tears while giving testimony about her foster care experience during a meeting Monday with state lawmakers. 

DeHaven and her husband, John, have raised their foster daughter since she was three days old. But when the Gardner couple tried to adopt the 2-year-old, they were told they also would have to adopt her three half-siblings. The Gardner couple did not have the resources to take care of so many kids, and didn’t feel it would be the right move for any of the children.

The DeHavens say removing their girl from their home now now would deeply traumatize her, and also would harm their adopted 2-year-old son, who has been raised alongside her all of his life.

“How am I supposed to explain to him what happened to his sissy?” Nicole DeHaven asked lawmakers.

The DeHavens told their story in person and in written testimony for the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, which met Monday for the first time this year.

The DeHavens, who are licensed foster parents through state contractor Cornerstones of Care, said they were assigned a new case team in March 2021, and that the team refused to consider them or even include them in the process of finding an adoptive family. According to the DeHavens, the case workers turned against them after a first potential adoptive family fell through.

“We have been accused of so many things, it’s unbelievable,” the DeHavens said.

The DeHavens believe Cornerstones of Care is attacking them for taking legal counsel and voicing concerns about the organization’s procedures and decisions.

The case team accused John DeHaven of being physically and verbally aggressive, the DeHavens said. The case team also filed a report with the Department for Children and Families, alleging that the family had misconducted a therapist assessment of their home life, the DeHavens said. 

“We were following their advice, not knowing at all that the proper paperwork had not been put in place,” Nicole DeHaven said. “And that this team never signed off on it, which part of me does feel like that was intentional. It was intentional.”

DCF spokesman Mike Deines said the department had been made aware of these concerns. 

“The agency is working with the family and our case management provider to address concerns brought up today during the Joint Committee on Child Welfare Oversight meeting,” Deines wrote in a statement to Kansas Reflector.

Cornerstones of Care didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who serves as chairwoman of the child welfare oversight committee, and Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, lead a discussion about concerns with the foster care system. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas’ foster care system has long been criticized for constant caseworker turnover, allegations of financial fraud and misconduct, and poor oversight for the children in the system. 

In June, a watchdog group found that Kansas had one of the highest rates of missing foster children. An August DCF report showed that 66 of approximately 6,200 foster care children were unaccounted for

Legislators thanked the DeHavens for testifying on the matter, saying that in many cases, foster parents were afraid to publicly criticize the organizations they work with.

“Thank you guys so much for coming and speaking on behalf of many foster care parents that we hear from quietly, that don’t want to speak up because they don’t want any kind of retaliation against the kids that they do still have the ability to care for. I wish we could wave a magic wand to solve this instantly,” said Rep. Charlotte Esau, R-Olathe. 

Their foster daughter is now set to be adopted with her half-siblings, though the adoption hasn’t been finalized yet. The DeHavens say they are done with fostering after this experience and will let their foster license expire. They are currently focused on minimizing the trauma of the move for their foster daughter. 

“We’re devastated,” John DeHaven said. “We are doing everything we possibly can to prevent her from going through pain in this transition.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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