Feb 01, 2024

'Great need for foster parents' in Ellis County, says St. Francis Ministries

Posted Feb 01, 2024 11:01 AM

Hays Post

Abuse is the No. 1 reason children are removed from their homes and every day, 14 children enter St. Francis Ministries for help.

The multi-faceted child, adult and family services organization was founded in 1945 in western Kansas. It also serves Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, and will soon expand into Ohio.

An informational presentation about the need for foster care families in Ellis County was presented Friday during the Chamber in Hays lunch.

Shawna Lyon is the adoption director in the Hays-based office, 3000 Broadway. She's also the interim independent living director.

Trish Bryant, Salina, is special assistant to the president. She is the former chief operating officer and will retire on June 30. Bryant started working for St. Francis Ministries right after graduating from Fort Hays State University and has been with the non-profit organization for 40 years.  

"There's a wide array that we do," Bryant said. "The children entering St. Francis either have been removed from their parents and are put in custody of the state, and then we work with the state to provide care for them. It could also include any outpatient or prevention service."

More than 90 percent of the children served by St. Francis come from low-income families.

Overall, about half of the kids removed from their homes are able to go back to them.

St. Francis also works with families on prevention, keeping them intact in the first place.

Trish Bryant of St. Francis Ministries corporate office in Salina talks about foster care needs in Ellis County at the Chamber in Hays lunch on Jan. 26. Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post
Trish Bryant of St. Francis Ministries corporate office in Salina talks about foster care needs in Ellis County at the Chamber in Hays lunch on Jan. 26. Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post

"Our therapists try to get them to develop structure in the home, work on parenting skills, reach out to community resources," Bryant said.

"At the end of the day, we don't want kids coming out of their homes. We don't want [Kansas Department of Children and Families] giving us referrals," she said.

"We want the children to be in their homes where they're safe with their parents. We do everything we can to make that happen."

There are out-of-home programs available including reintegration, foster care, adoption and independent living. 

St. Francis also provides community-based services including fatherhood programs, job support and outpatient behavioral health.  

In Ellis County, there are 59 children in foster care, said Lyon. "They have been removed from a parent's home or a caregiver's home in Hays, Ellis, Victoria. 

"The state requires that we place kids with kinship whenever possible," she said. "Our goal is for 50 percent of our youth that go out of home to be placed with kinship. 

"The need is always there. ... Any of you could be called as part of a kinship mentor or kinship option for one of your family members who may need a placement for their child. It touches all of us," Lyon said.

Of the 59 children that are in out-of-home placement, 37 will get reintegration services. 

"That means we've got staff working with them, working with their families to try to get those children reintegrated back home," Lyon said.

"If reintegration isn't possible and the judge determines parental rights need to be terminated, those children transfer to adoption," she said.

In Ellis County, 14 children are served through the St. Francis Ministries adoption program.

There is one local child being served through permanent custodianship. There are seven youth ages 16-21 who are in the independent-living program.

Although Ellis County is their home county and where the court case is based, they may not live in Ellis County.

"We can place children anywhere in Kansas — any foster home, any kinship home, any residential facility. We do have some kids that live out-of-state with family through an interstate compact," she said.  

Among the 37 youth currently out-of-home receiving reintegration services, 17 are placed in Ellis County. Eight of the 14 kids eligible for adoption are in Ellis County. There are no independent living youth in Ellis County. The majority are in the Wichita area. 

St. Francis is working with about 14 siblings locally.

"We try really hard to get those kids placed together," Lyon said. "We understand the sibling connections are really important." Two of the sibling sets are in the adoption process. "We're trying to adopt them together."

After children are reintegrated, they undergo aftercare services. 

"We know the family is still going to need some help to keep those kids at home," she said. 

There are 12 Ellis County children undergoing aftercare service. 

"So, we've been successful in getting 12 children returned home after they've been in the foster care system," Lyon said.

Seven adopted children are in aftercare service.

"Their finalizations happened within the last six months or so," she said. "They live here in Ellis County, and we're currently checking in on them to make sure things are going OK."

Trish Bryant, Salina, and Shawna Lyon, Hays, St. Francis Ministries, talk about foster care needs in Ellis County. Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post
Trish Bryant, Salina, and Shawna Lyon, Hays, St. Francis Ministries, talk about foster care needs in Ellis County. Photo by Becky Kiser/Hays Post

A family or someone in Ellis County who may be interested in becoming a foster care parent can get information on how to do that at the St. Francis Ministries website or by calling the agency's toll-free number 1-800-423-1342.

To become a licensed foster care parent in Kansas, applicants must first undergo a background check and complete a series of training classes.

"There's a great need for foster parents," Bryant said, "and any time you can put a child in a family home, they thrive so much better."

Interested people may also become volunteers or make financial donations and gifts to the St. Francis Ministries Foundation.

An annual Christmas For Kids toy drive in Ellis County is sponsored by Matt Lyon of the State Farm insurance agency in Hays. Matt is Shawna's husband.

Last Christmas, a tricycle was donated and shipped to an Ellis County child who has been removed from their home and is living with relatives in Missouri.

Kansas teens in foster care may benefit from a proposed alternative to finding a permanent home.

A bill in a Kansas House committee would allow foster children older than 16 to enter into custodial arrangements with relatives and close friends.

The bill needs committee approval to advance to the House for consideration.

Supporters of the bill say Kansas could be the first state to establish such an program.