(CN) – Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and the heads of the state’s foster care program allowed children in foster care to become essentially homeless and suffer from sexual exploitation and trafficking, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed Friday.
Advocacy groups Children’s Rights, The National Center for Youth Law and Kansas Appleseed filed the lawsuit on behalf of 10 children who are in the state’s foster care system.
Children were subjected to churning, a practice that moves foster kids “from placement to placement,” with some moving more than a hundred times, according to the complaint.
“Alarmingly, [the Kansas Department for Children and Families] frequently subjects children to ‘night-to-night’ or short-term placements,” the 68-page complaint states. In a repetitive, destabilizing cycle, children are regularly forced to sleep for a night or several nights anywhere a bed, couch, office conference room, shelter or hospital can be found.”
The children stay overnight at the short-term lodgings “and their days in agency offices waiting to find out where they sleep next,” which “deprives children of basic shelter and effectively renders them homeless while in state custody,” the lawsuit claims.
In one case, a 10-year-old boy who has been in state care since 2012 has been moved more than 70 times. This included a “near continuous” three-month string of night-to-night placements, which caused him to frequently change schools or not attend school at all, according to the complaint.
Many of the children have also been forced to sleep in foster care contractor offices, with one 17-year-old girl staying in an office for a week.
The girl, who entered foster care in 2007, was adopted along with her two sisters in 2010. Their adoptive father and brother “repeatedly sexually assaulted and sodomized” her and one of her sisters over a period of three years, the lawsuit states.
“The sisters remained in this home for three years despite multiple calls to Child Protective Services reporting the abuse,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit claims that she was also sexually exploited and trafficked in one of her placements.
Kansas, which relies on contractors to help find placements for foster children, is accused of letting those agencies waive capacity requirements and take on more children than are normally allowed. The lawsuit refers to a home that could only legally take in six children, but was approved for 10.
The advocacy groups aren’t seeking damages in their complaint, but instead ask the state to fix the problems. They claim the children’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection was violated by the state agencies.