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I cannot and will not endorse political candidates due to the judicial canons. It’s unethical. But I love America and the opportunities it’s given to me and my family.
I come from a humble background. My dad was a TV technician. My mom a real estate professional. Neither Dad nor Mom graduated college. They just worked hard. Dad built an electronics service business into a successful enterprise. My mom was a top real estate sales person for 2 different agencies. Both started with nothing (except each other). They are now happily retired real estate investors living out their golden years in Texas. Only in America can people of such humble beginnings accomplish such success and wealth accumulation.
They taught me the truth in Zig Ziglar’s mantra, “Success is dependent on glands—sweat glands.”
Thanks to Mom and Dad, I graduated college. After selling copiers, typewriters (back when every office used them), over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, then biologicals (pediatric vaccines), I went to law school. I practiced law for a couple years for a corporate firm, as an Asst. DA with Sedgwick County, then hung my shingle and practiced law as a solo practitioner for almost 14 years before becoming a judge. I also followed my parents’ lead while in private practice by investing in real estate.
Lots of credit for where I am now certainly goes to Mom and Dad, and my wife, Mona, and three awesome daughters, but the bulk of the credit goes to the American Way. I am proud to live in a country that embraces the dreams and aspirations of individuals driven to succeed by the success of those who came before them. This makes me a patriot. I love the Anthem and the Pledge of Allegience, and cringe when others express their hatred of them and for the country they represent.
This is why I take every opportunity I can to point out how much better America is than other countries, even when dealing with the coronavirus crisis. I am proud that it seems that, at least at this stage, America is responding better to this crisis than most other nations. This is most obvious with the death per million number. As of April 1, 2020, the USA’s deaths per million is 13. Of the top 10 nations (number of cases), only Germany is better at 10. While this number will only get worse, at least 3 of the top 10, Italy, Spain and the U.K., are adding so many new deaths each day that we will never surpass them, and most others as a percentage of population are likely to stay well ahead of us as well. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.
Don’t say “but what about China and Russia?” No one with a brain trusts their numbers because they are totalitarian regimes that tamp down information along with the freedom of their citizens.
America is also dealing with a population of 327 million, which dwarfs all of these other nations, so keeping this most heinous measurement under control is notable, and I’m proud to be in the most capitalist of these counties, the most free even with the restrictions we are living under at the moment, at this point in history. We are experiencing the bounty of Americans’ freedom to do business and engage in capitalist exchange in the face of a pandemic. We are rising to this unique challenge just as we did in other difficult times because of these freedoms.
One final note to consider. ALL of the other top 10 nations are less capitalist and more socialist than the USA. Their health care systems are also more socialist than ours. Freedom matters. Freedom spurs entrepreneurs and businesses to take care of the sick and elderly. Freedom spurs businessmen like Elon Musk and Mike Lindell, and great American companies like Ford and General Motors, to sacrifice profits to make personal protection devices and ventilators just like many like them did when we went to war against the Nazis. They don’t have to be forced to do anything because they know what country they owe their freedoms and success to.
I am a patriot. I love America. I know we’ll emerge from this very dark tunnel stronger than before, and probably stronger than all other nations with less freedoms and opportunities. Please don’t accuse me of endorsing any candidate. I endorse America.
I’m Judge Kevin Smith of the 18th Judicial District. I’m coming to you today in my own capacity and not as a representative of the District Court to give you some encouragement in this very difficult time for our city, county, state and country.
The district court is all but closed thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. I’m in civil and set all of my hearings this week and next a month out so attorneys and litigants could stay home and take care of their families. Beginning week after next, I will hold telephone hearings for civil motions but no trials. Only emergency hearings are happening now, which primarily includes criminal cases, PFA/PFS hearings, and some CINC matters. Suffice to say that the coronavirus pandemic is impacting everyone.
Vigilance is the theme today. If you follow me on Facebook, @kmarksmith, you already know how I feel about the coronavirus pandemic and the measures being taken to limit transmission of the virus to vulnerable populations.
I don’t like the virus or the fact that we’re having to give up a measure of freedom to fight it, but if we are vigilant in complying with the stay-at-home and crowd-size orders, we will beat this thing sooner rather than later.
I encourage you to read the essay I posted on the legality of stay-at-home and crowd-size orders, as well as watch the Alliance Defending Freedom video. I conclude that under current case law the Supreme Court will likely find them constitutional. BUT, as a conservative who believes in the founding fathers’ vision of freedom and liberty, we must be vigilant in another sense.
As Benjamin Franklin put it, “Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”
These restrictions must be rolled back as soon as possible. Also, they must not be expanded beyond what is necessary to fight the virus. For example, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva ordered all gun stores closed as “nonessential.” If these stay-at-home orders expand to explicitly bar the exercise of other constitutional liberties, there’s a problem that even the Supreme Court might find objectionable.
Thus, we must also be vigilant by keeping an eye on government to keep it from turning this crisis into an excuse to tamp down essential liberties such as the right to keep and bear arms, the right to practice our religion, and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Be vigilant fellow citizens by practicing social distancing and making sure government doesn’t exceed its mandate to keep us safe from this unprecedented health crisis. Also, pray. I pray for you and our leaders who are making very difficult decisions through this crisis.
God bless and stay safe,
Hon. Kevin M. Smith
There’s lots of discussion on the legality of stay-at-home and crowd-size limit orders, specifically, whether they violate the Constitution. The most applicable amendments are the 1st, 5th, and 14th, under the rights to assemble, of religion, and due process. Following is a very brief analysis based on case law. I will skip a summary of the facts leading up to these restrictions on our freedoms and go right to the legal analysis.
First, an argument can be made that since these restrictions aren’t directed toward a particular group or viewpoint the Constitution isn’t an issue at all. In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), the Court considered whether a law banning the possession of peyote improperly infringed on Native American’s religious practices. “Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, observed that the Court has never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate. Allowing exceptions to every state law or regulation affecting religion ‘would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.’ Scalia cited as examples compulsory military service, payment of taxes, vaccination requirements, and child-neglect laws.” See Oyez summary of holding, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1989/88-1213. Here, while the stay-at-home orders and bans on groups of 10 or more have a huge impact on churches and religious organizations, they are generally applicable to everyone regardless of specific viewpoints or beliefs. It’s notable that Scalia cited as examples “compulsory military service, payment of taxes, vaccination requirements, and child-neglect laws” since such laws and regulations are infringements on personal liberty. Just as the laws banning peyote are applicable to everyone including those who use the drug to practice their religion, so too are citizens bound by stay-at-home and crowd size orders due to the covid-19 pandemic and the need to limit person-to-person transmission of the disease, and not hostility toward any one group’s viewpoint.
More applicable are various government efforts to regulate behavior to protect the public at large or one specific class subject to discrimination. In ROBERTS, ACTING COMMISSIONER, MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, ET AL. v. UNITED STATES JAYCEES, 468 U.S. 609 (1984), the court considered a state law that prohibited discrimination based on sex that was applied to require a private men’s organization to admit women. The Jaycees barred women from its membership. They clearly had the First Amendment freedom to associate with whomever they chose, but Minnesota banned sex discrimination, and these goals conflicted with each other. The Court held that compelling the Jaycees to admit women didn’t infringe on their freedom to associate with each other. More important, it applied the strictest scrutiny to Minnesota’s anti-discrimination law finding that “Minnesota’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against women justified enforcement of the state anti-discrimination law.” Also, “that the Minnesota law was not aimed at the suppression of speech and did not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.” See Oyez summary of holding, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1983/83-724. The latter aspect of the holding were the seeds of the Smith decision previously discussed. Even with this strict scrutiny standard of review, given the compelling governmental interest of saving lives, and the fact that the measures we are dealing with merely serve to limit contact with those who might be infected but aren’t yet tested or quarantined, it’s likely that these restrictions would survive a challenge.
As I write this, India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, went on a lock down to contain the spread of covid-19. Add to this the fact that most of Europe is on lock down, and it’s difficult to argue that our very minor restrictions thus far aren’t justified.
We are dealing with what some have called an existential threat to life, a literal pandemic that absent extreme mitigation measures will kill a million or more Americans. You may disagree with this assessment, but there’s general consensus in the medical community in America and abroad that covid-19 is more deadly and dangerous than any pandemic in our lifetimes. Thus, it’s likely that any reviewing court will apply the more appropriate intermediate scrutiny standard. Under this standard, all the government must show is that the measures are reasonably related to an important governmental interest. In O’LONE, ADMINISTRATOR, LEESBURG PRISON COMPLEX, ET AL. v. ESTATE OF SHABAZZ ET AL., 482 U.S. 342 (1987), the Court considered whether prison restrictions on inmate mobility that prevented Muslim prisoners from attending their faith’s mandatory worship ceremonies violated the freedoms of assembly/association and religion. “Jumu’ah is commanded by the Koran and must be held every Friday after the sun reaches its zenith and before the Asr, or afternoon prayer. (Citation ommitted.) There is no question that respondents’ sincerely held religious beliefs compelled attendance at Jumu’ah.” Ibid. at 345. Restrictions on prisoner mobility were necessitated by security issues that arose from allowing prisoners to enter and exit the prison before the end of their outside work assignments. These restrictions resulted in Muslim prisoners not being able to attend Jumu’ah. Ibid. at 347.
The Supreme Court applied the intermediate scrutiny standard finding that the policy had “a logical connection to legitimate governmental interests.” Shabazz, 482 U.S. at 350. See also TURNER ET AL. v. SAFLEY ET AL., 482 U.S. 78 (1987) (finding strict scrutiny doesn’t apply to penal regulation analysis); c.f. CITY OF CHICAGO v. MORALES et al., 527 U.S. 41 (1999) (gang restrictions not unconstitutional on their face but due to too much discretion and lack of notice, they violated 5th and 14th amendments’ due process requirements). The legitimate interest was prison security. Restricting movement from outside to inside the prison had a logical connection to this interest.
While some might argue that current restrictions are too strict and that our leaders should have imposed less onerous ones, the Shabazz Court did not require the plaintiff to identify an alternative means to satisfy the legitimate interests. Shabazz, 482 U.S. at 350. This requirement would require a strict scrutiny analysis (least restrictive means), and the instant emergency would likely not compel the court to require such analysis.
In summation, you may not like the restrictions that are imposed on our freedoms, but the worldwide pandemic that led to them will likely result in a court finding them constitutional under existing law. This doesn’t mean that I agree that existing law is an accurate interpretation of the First Amendment, just that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to apply these cases to any challenge of the orders.
Two weeks ago I didn’t imagine I’d be living in the midst of a pandemic so widespread that every country in the world would be impacted. I didn’t imagine that citizens in the free world along with socialist and communist societies would be ordered to stay home and not leave except for necessities. Yet, here we are.
Faith is an important part of my life. I spend time most mornings reading my Bible and praying for comfort and direction in my life, and for family, friends, and others who need God. When times are tough I see the purpose to this daily habit—my mind is flooded with things I’ve studied before that apply to such times. Today, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 comes to mind:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Seriously, there is “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” Ecc. 3:5.
Some who read this passage don’t find comfort. In fact, when you consider the bad portion of each verse, it’s depressing. Yet, when you consider it in light of our own history, it’s encouraging. On a lighter note, you can’t have a rose without the thorns. In America’s history, we have experienced far more roses than thorns, yet we are foolish to ignore the reality that just as God promised in Ecclesiastes, and we’ve experienced as Americans, you cannot have the good without the bad. Now’s a good time for a brief history lesson as proof of this truth.
King George and parliament used the colonies to fund their wars. When the colonists resisted taxation without representation and the siezing of arms, British troops invaded. The colonists came together knowing that if they lost, they would sacrifice not only their liberty and property, but their lives. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “we must hang together or we’ll surely hang separately.” Patriots died. Everyone suffered. But the bad times passed with victory, and blessings followed. It also resulted in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, which we will soon need to ensure that this crisis doesn’t end as an excuse to wrest away our freedoms and inalienable rights.
The British didn’t take the loss well. In fact, in the time leading up to the War of 1812, they seized America’s merchant ships and forced American sailors to serve in their navy. America declared war on Britain. Britain invaded America and burned the capital to the ground. We won again. But there was again sacrifice and fear, followed by blessings.
There were other sacrifices and difficult times in between, but the most apparent time of sacrifice to follow was the Civil War. Indeed, one group of Americans were continuously victimized and not experiencing any time of blessing, slaves, from the nation’s founding up to the Civil War. Put where we are now in context of America’s slaves, who were beaten, abused, sold out of their families for generations. Slaveholders even used the Bible to justify this oppression. This injustice led to a war where more than 600,000 Americans died and countless treasure sacrificed. (Please spare me the “states’ rights” argument.) Our president was assassinated, and this resulted in a reconstruction period that ensured that former slaves would live as second class citizens for another few generations.
More than 116,000 Americans died in WWI. The Spanish Flu pandemic that followed killed another 675,000.
More than 416,000 Americans died in WWII.
Almost 34,000 Americans died in the Korean conflict.
More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam conflict.
More than 7,000 Americans died in the 1st and 2nd Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and occupations.
Add to the sacrifices in these wars and conflicts economic setbacks of various recessions and the Great Depression, and it’s obvious that the current generation has been spared from much sacrifice. We are a little spoiled.
But the purpose of this post isn’t to criticize our reaction to the covid-19 crisis and how our government is responding, it’s to point out what has always happened in times of crisis throughout our history. We always persevered and emerged stronger. Pastor Darren McClintock of Central Christian Church began our online service this morning with Psalms 30:5: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” We’ve lived this truth time and again. We’ve sacrificed. We’ve chosen to be optimistic about the future. We always experienced joy in the morning.
It’s not Christian and certainly not biblical, but the phrase “this too shall pass” has truth in it. The covid-19 pandemic shall pass. When it does we will remember the bonds that we renewed with family and friends, and the shared sacrifice we made to survive and eventually thrive. Just like Americans have been doing for centuries.
God bless you, your family, and friends,
Hon. Kevin M. Smith
Following is a speech I’m giving to the Wichita Metro Crime Commission next week. If it inspires you to action, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time for me to present this issue to your church or civic group.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about juvenile justice and the foster care system. For far too long we’ve looked at these two areas of law as necessary evils and ignorantly refused to make the connection between them and the rest of the legal system. Today I will share with you indisputable proof that our failure to acknowledge their importance—that they are the gateway courts to every other problem we face today—has made us less safe and financially solvent as a society. I will also share the sad reality that waiting for DCF or government to solve these problems will just exacerbate the problem. States across the country have been adopting the latest trends in foster care and juvenile justice reform for years, and we still have problems, perhaps even more so than had they not acted. I will also share with you indisputable proof that we can immediately impact case outcomes and thereby protect our community from the worst outcomes by getting personally involved.
Child abuse and neglect is a problem that’s impossible to ignore. Seems like every couple weeks we see a report of a dead child. It also seems that all of these cases in Kansas involve DCF, as if Kansas is the problem. However, this is a mistake. The truth is Kansas isn’t great, or poor, but average and perhaps a little better than average. For example, a few years ago Florida audited its DCF agency and discovered that over a 5 year period, almost 90 children were dying every year while abuse investigations were pending. California averages 50 foster care deaths per year. Colorado averages more than 20. One study revealed that Kansas’s foster care death rate is about half of where it should be based on our foster care population. So, regardless how tragic each of these deaths is, it could be/should be much worse.
Kansas does remove more children from homes than other states, such as Florida. But another way to look at it is that perhaps removing more children than other states might be a good thing—we don’t experience the high death rate before removal that other states do.
In 2019 DCF received more than 14,000 reports of abuse in Sedgwick County. With less than a couple dozen investigators, they triaged these cases down to 672 filed cases, which is more than the 583 in 2018. That’s about 4% of the reported cases. Just under 1300 children are in out-of-home placements overall. It’s been many months since we read about a foster child death. Unless they are being swept under the rug, you can count on one hand the foster child deaths each year. But, there’s more to this story than instant, easy to see tragedy.
The KC Star received permission to survey prison inmates in several states to determine if they were products of foster care. More than half-a-dozen completed their surveys before the Star’s multi-part series of articles broke. Nationally, 1 in 4 inmates were foster kids. The worst state was Kansas, with 1 of 3. We have 11,000 inmates. If that number applies to all inmates and not just the responders, that’s almost 4,000 who are products of foster care. So, let’s dispel the myth that this isn’t our problem. Foster kids victimized by the system and heartless citizens who look the other way leads some former fosters to steal, rape, or kill and thus make it everyone’s problem.
Here’s what we know about good foster care outcomes. Kids do better when they are placed in their communities. Kids do better when they are placed with relatives. Kids do better when they can see their parents while the parents work on their problems. Kids do better when we place them with families equipped to deal with their unique needs and personalities. Kids become productive adults and good parents when they graduate high school and take advantage of free college and trade school education available to them as foster children.
Good outcomes are not happening enough in Kansas. Once a child is removed from the home it’s a long, drawn out process that sometimes does more harm than good. The overall out-of-home placement length is 20.5 months; reunification case plans, 9 months; adoption case plans, 39 months. Sadly, this is made worse by the lack of sufficient foster placements. For example, of that 1300 Sedgwick County number, only 800 were placed in Sedgwick County. Statewide, we have approximately 2,700 foster families for more than 7,600 kids. This makes it hard to ideally match kids with families equipped to care for them, which leads to multiple disruptions. Over a 1,000 day case length, the average number of placements is 10.
The best measurement as to the damage the system inflicts on these children is graduation rates. In 2019, less than 39% graduated high school. It’s just 30% in the Wichita Region, the second lowest of the 4 Kansas regions. Seems to me that this pitiful number is probably what leads to the hopelessness that compels these kids to turn to crime. On that note, one study shows that for foster kids in 5 or more placements, 90% will be involved in the criminal justice system. Again, Kansas’s average over 1,000 days is 10!
So, now that we know how awful the situation is, what’s the solution? It’s us.
There are 513,000 residents in Sedgwick County. 49k claim to be Protestant Christians; 79k claim to be Catholic Christians. Only 800 families are available to foster; that’s less than 6/10ths of 1% of the believers, and less than 2/10ths of 1% overall. So, the first thing we need is more citizens stepping up to foster. 1% of the Christians would be just enough to meet the need. 2% and we could perfectly match them and cut down on the number of placements.
Fostering is a 24-7 proposition. There’s another less time consuming option that dramatically impacts case outcomes. Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. CASAs spend 10-15 hours a month on just one child or family of children. They meet the child, keep an eye on the case, and report to the judge what’s being done or not being done by the parties. While this sounds like a small commitment, the impact is profound. 77% of kids with CASAs graduate high school. USD 259’s overall rate is just 74%. Almost 7% of kids reunified with their families are removed within 12 months; less than 1% of CASA kids are removed. It also has a dramatic impact on the runaway rate and helps DCF locate runaways when they leave their placements.
In 2018 we were only able to help 152 kids with CASAs. After telling this story to churches and civic groups, in 2019 we helped 220. Better but several hundred less than we need.
Finally, Sedgwick now has the Youthrive mentorship program for kids 17-21 years. Johnson County’s experience is that 80% of YT kids graduate. Cara Mattson tells me that they have 32 mentors. However, they need men, and almost all mentors are women.
Two weeks ago Gov. Kelly announced that she wants to consolidate DCF, the department of aging, and the juvenile justice system under one umbrella. Bigger is always better, right? I suspect that this is another dramatic change that might look good on paper but won’t move the needle on case outcomes. Even if it does impact outcomes, it will be years before we see the results. In the meantime, we need to help Sedgwick County kids NOW.
Here’s what you can do to dramatically impact at least one child’s life:
Be a foster parent. We have several agencies here, including SFM, Ember Hope, DCCCA, Salvation Army, Restoration Family Services, and KVC.
Be a CASA. Contact CASA of Sedgwick County for details.
Be a Youthrive mentor.
We know that if more citizens step forward to help these kids directly, we will save them from a system that destroys their hopes and dreams. Stop complaining and start helping.
I’ll end with a Bible verse that is universal in application. James 1:27. Perfect faith is this, that we meet widows and orphans in their affliction. We aren’t. WE are failing these kids. Time to step up and be part of the solution.
One final ask. Every time I present to churches and civic clubs people step up. If you are part of a church or philanthropic civic organization, please put them in touch with me so I can tell your friends and neighbors what they can do to help.
Welcome to 2020! It’s a new year with a new set of goals. I’ve never been much of a “resolution” person. For me it’s goals. Goals are something to work toward and achieve. Resolutions are things to walk away from when they seem daunting.
In 2020 I have a few things to do. A few personal and financial goals that are between my family and I, and some career objectives, including running for reelection, which I’ll share with you since they will help us continue to do good work for the community. I’m in a new assignment as of January 2, 2020, which moved me to the main courthouse. I will cover dearly departed Judge Terry Pullman’s criminal docket for January, then transition to civil for the balance of 2020 and beyond. I left my child in need of care and juvenile dockets behind, which is sad since I loved that work. Fortunately, this eliminates any conflicts I had before, so I will not only continue community outreach efforts for foster care, but be more directly involved in the groups we’re forming to support foster parents and children, so my sadness is somewhat assuaged by the exciting opportunities this brings.
More important, I am continuing to ramp up the campaign for reelection. Unless judges make attorneys and parties who appear before them mad, or are woefully unprepared for a campaign, we usually don’t get opposition in elections, but sometimes a wild card surprises us. These are usually lawyers who aren’t plugged into the bar or respective political party. The best offense is a good defense. So the plan is continue to be a fair, unbiased, prepared and professional judge, do good work for the community, and be prepared for any unexpected surprise. For this I need your help. Please email me at email@example.com if you have a church or community group that would like to hear about CASA, mentoring, or foster care opportunities. The data is dire and these kiddos need our help.
Please consider donating to the campaign. I will be knocking on doors and engaging in other campaign-related activities to make my division less attractive to potential opponents, and this takes money. Just click on the donate button on this website to make an online contribution, or send a check to “Re-elect Judge Kevin M. Smith” to P.O. Box 1633, Wichita, KS 67201.
Finally, I’m compiling a list of potential volunteers for parades, door knocking, etc. Please email me your name, address, and phone number if you’d like to help in these ways. Prominent placement sites for campaign signs are appreciated too. God bless and have a Happy New Year!
Don’t forget to Vote in August and November!!!
2019 is almost gone. From 2016 to now, God put me in a place to impact foster kids in my courtroom and on a bigger scale through community outreach via church and civic group presentations, and in partnership with Dr. Rebecca Reddy and other foster care advocates as we put together a coalition of concerned citizens to support foster parents and children. On the eve of 2020, I have mixed feelings. On January 2 I will transfer to civil and no longer have a child in need of care (CINC) docket. I look forward to growing as a judge with the increased responsibilities. I will greatly miss the children, families, and stakeholders in my CINC courtroom, but know that the opportunities to impact foster families and children on a wider scale will far exceed what they are now.
We must think bigger.
The problems we face in Sedgwick County and Kansas are far bigger than one judge’s CINC docket. This is a community-wide problem that won’t go away until everyone steps up to fix the problem. Governor, legislators, DCF, courts, churches, civic groups, you and I must do our parts to care for foster children and support the families who sacrifice their time and treasure to care for the least among us. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27 (ESV).
Everyone reading this can do something. You can foster, serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, mentor older youths as a Youthrive mentor or Big Brother/Sister, or support those in your church or neighborhood who are helping foster parents and children. I’d love to present the foster care crisis to your church or civic organization, for example. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
Just because you don’t want to do the right thing doesn’t mean you should make yourself feel better by convincing others to not help.
We must stop making excuses for our lack of action. I find it amusing when random comments to my posts include the alleged profit motive of foster parents. It’s obvious that such people haven’t bothered talking to actual foster parents who receive a tiny stipend that’s never enough to pay for their time and out of pocket expenses associated with caring for these kids. Indeed, the lack of financial resources for these families is one of the main reasons we lose as many foster families as we recruit. I’m sure the poisonous words of these people have stopped many willing people from doing what their hearts told them to do.
I need your help.
In 2020 I ask friends, family, Sedgwick County citizens, and colleagues to help me continue the work we started in 2016. I am up for reelection in 2020. While my role in the court will change, my commitment to community outreach will not. I will continue to scream from the rooftops the need for citizens to step up as foster parents, CASAs, and mentors. Being a duly elected judge opens up opportunities to speak on this issue, so I ask you to support the campaign in whatever way you can so I can continue the momentum. I also ask that you keep an eye out for outreach opportunities coming up in 2020. On April 2, 7-9 pm, for example, Friends University is hosting a foster care panel discussion, cosponsored by CASA of Sedgwick County and the Mattress Hub.
Please sign up on the campaign site for email updates and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of campaign events and presentations. Give if you can (click on the donate button to the right), and please email or message me if you’d like to help in other ways such as knocking on doors, marching in parades, etc.
You can do something to make others’ lives better.
Use this time to consider what you can do to impact our community for the better. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (ESV). Your service opportunity may not be foster care, but there’s something you can do to make someone’s life better. Whatever that is, stop pondering and start acting.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
I’m happy and sad. Friday my chief judge assigned me to Civil Court due to the untimely passing of Judge Terry Pullman. While I’m having a hard time letting go of the cases on my CINC docket in particular, this promotion will give me an opportunity to help Sedgwick County citizens in a different capacity. More important and relevant to our outreach efforts to get citizens engaged in solutions to the foster care crisis, it eliminates all potential conflicts that arise from being a CINC court judge and speaking out about the crisis. I will continue to present the foster care crisis in the community and volunteer opportunities for our citizens.
The young Jewish man was traveling to Jericho from Jerusalem. A band of robbers fell upon him. They robbed and beat him, leaving him for dead on the side of the road. A Jewish priest passed by. Instead of stopping to help, he walked to the other side of the road and kept going. A while later a Levite passed by and did the same. Fortunately for the man, a Samaritan passed by and stopped to help. It’s important to fully understand the significance of a Samaritan stopping to help; other castes of Jews hated Samaritans, and Samaritans hated other Jews. Yet this Samaritan didn’t see a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Samaritan or Gentile. He saw a neighbor. As anyone should do with a neighbor, he bandaged the Jew then took him to a inn, leaving all his money with the innkeeper and telling him to spend whatever it took to heal the man, and to send the Samaritan the bill if he didn’t leave enough money. This proverb ends with Jesus asking a question. Who of the three were the man’s neighbor? Luke 10:36.
It’s damning to imagine that only 1 of 3 passing Jews stopped to help, and that it was the one who was most despised who did the right thing, yet I’m about to share with you something even more damning about our city, our faith community in particular, and how we are failing to respond to the plight of foster children in our county—we are leaving hundreds of abused and neglected children on the side of the road to fend for themselves.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto me. James 1:27 tells us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Yet, we are facing a foster care crisis in every state of the union, a crisis made worse by the church not stepping up to help these orphans. In Sedgwick County the latest data reveals we have almost 1300 foster children in out of home foster placements, with a total of more than 1600 children subject to child in need of care cases.
These cases are a very small percentage of the reports of abuse and neglect DCF received. Last year there were just over 14,000 DCF intakes with just 600 filed cases. This year we will likely see somewhere between 650 and 700 by the end of December.
While we must remove these kids from parents who abuse and neglect them—they are literally at risk of death in the extreme cases—the system itself without sufficient support from the community traumatizes kids and makes their success as adults—as parents and productive members of the community—far less likely. The overall average out-of-home placement length is 20 months; for reintegration, 10 months; for adoption, 40 months. The average number of different foster homes over a 1,000 day period is 9. That’s 9 different placements for kids who have already been abused, neglected, and traumatized. 90% of the kids in 5 or more placements will be involved in the criminal justice system. 25% of the 11,000 inmates of Kansas prisons and jails were foster kids. 70% of the parents who have their children removed from their homes were also foster kids.
These numbers are depressing. And you might be surprised to learn that they are mostly consistent with most other states. It’s not a Kansas problem, except to say that it is a problem our community and particularly the church has the ability to solve—at least to the extent we step up and care for these children so they aren’t traumatized by a system that is overworked, understaffed, and underfunded.
Remember that 1300 out-of-home placement number. Here’s the tragedy when it comes to how our community and the church are responding to the need to take care of these kids. We only have 800 local foster homes for these children. There are 513,000 residents in Sedgwick County. 79,000 claim to be Catholics. 49,000 claim to be Protestants. Just 1 of 3 Jews stopped to help the fellow Jew on the side of the road. If we assume that the majority of the foster homes we have are from various churches in our city, just 6/10ths of 1% of Sedgwick County Christians are stepping up to help our neglected and abused children. If we don’t make this assumption, the number is even smaller. The church’s philanthropic attitude is far worse today than in biblical times.
In case you’re wondering, the 400 or so kids who can’t be placed locally are sent to homes in other counties, which means they must be transported to Sedgwick County for parental visits, adding hours of travel to the trauma of being removed from their communities of family and friends.
DCF has implemented a matching system that attempts to ideally match children to foster homes according to need, which should decrease the disruption rate and provide more stability to these kids. But with so few foster homes this will do little to help. Only when we have so many foster homes that it’s the foster families on the waiting list and not the children will we diminish this trauma.
We must do as Jesus would have us do. Take care of our orphans. The church must step up. We have approximately 400 churches in Sedgwick County. If we added just one foster family per church we’d have just enough for all out-of-home placements. If 2 per church stepped up, we’d have more than enough.
If your church members don’t have time to foster 24-7, there are other options that have a profound impact on foster care outcomes. Overall, we graduate just 39% of foster kids who age out. You can be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer and spend 10-15 hours per month advocating for these kids in court and increase the graduation rate to more than 77%! This also decreases the runaway and recidivism rates. You can also mentor 17-21 year olds as a Youthrive mentor, or even be a Big Brother/Sister. One-on-one relationships make a huge difference in the lives of these kids who often believe no one cares for them.
Stable foster placements, CASAs, and mentoring have a phenomenal impact on foster care outcomes. They help kids reintegrate with their families and, worse case, minimize the trauma when parents can’t become fit and adoption follows. Why? Consider Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Show these kids your spiritual fruits as a foster parent, CASA volunteer, or mentor and they will have something to shoot for when they grow up.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18.
What if 10% of our local churches stepped up to help these kids as fosters or advocates? 13,000 homes would be available to help 1300 kids. We’d ideally match them with families equipped for their unique needs. Indeed, if just 1% stepped up we’ve have 1300, just enough. Do the math for anywhere in between.
I’d love to share this message with your church. Here’s the most encouraging thing about what I’ve experienced since I started talking about this issue. Last year at this time we only had 700 local placements. That number is more than 800 today. We have foster care training classes going on at City Life Church, Central Christian Church, and various locations throughout our community at any given time. There are also community outreach efforts underway to provide support to foster families as they step up to help these kids. The church is responding but not nearly fast enough or in sufficient numbers. Every time I share this message with a church, people step forward. The problem is getting the message to those who want to help. Invite me to speak at your churches and civic organizations and I’ll drop everything to help these kids. I’ll even bring someone from CASA, a foster care agency or two, and Youthrive so they can answer questions I can’t.
Time to step up church. Let’s save these kids. Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like me to schedule a presentation at your church or civic organization.