TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Lawmakers are expressing outrage after learning more than 70 foster children are missing in Kansas, a number that officials say is in line with the national average.
Foster care contractors provided the information during a meeting of an oversight panel Tuesday at the Statehouse in response to questions about the disappearance of three sisters from a northeast Kansas foster home, The Kansas City Star reports. Police believe the missing girls — ages 15, 14 and 12 — ran away in August.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, told a child welfare task force meeting that when she asked the Kansas Department for Children and Families about the missing children on Tuesday, the agency knew nothing. She said after the meeting that she was "flabbergasted."
The agency's chief, Phyllis Gilmore, said after the meeting that she can't discuss the missing sisters. She said in a statement Wednesday that the department has long had policies in place to attempt to find missing foster children quickly and that many are returned to their foster homes swiftly.
"These children who run away are not under lock and key; they are generally in family foster homes, older youth, who attend school and activities, and they often miss their biological families," she said.
She also said that some of the missing children who are considered to be on the run are with a parent attempting to keep them out of foster care.
KVC Kansas, one of the foster care contractors, said it has roughly 38 missing children. The other company, Saint Francis Community Services, said 36 in its system are missing.
Chad Anderson, chief clinical officer at KVC Kansas, told the child welfare task force that the number of missing represented about 1 percent of the foster care population and is in line with the national average.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that during the federal government's 2015 fiscal year, about 4,600 children in foster care were listed as runaways, or 1.1 percent of the nearly 428,000 total. Kansas had almost 7,100 children in foster care in August, so the number of those missing is about 1 percent.
Still, Anderson acknowledged the contractors could do a better job.
"I don't know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should," Anderson said, adding that contractors update DCF every 30 days on the missing children.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Lenexa Republican, said she was shocked at the number of missing children. Even if the number missing is in line with the national average, she said, it is still too many.
Rep. Steve Alford, a Ulysses Republican who chairs the task force, said after the meeting he wasn't really surprised.
"There's a break between DCF and the contracting," he said. "Once the children ... (go from the court) into the possession of the secretary, she hands them off to the contractors and it's their responsibility, you know, it's kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of aspects."