‘Frozen in time’: Backlog in Kansas courts causing issues for foster families

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LENEXA, Kan. — The ongoing pandemic is taking a toll on foster parents in Kansas, some of whom can’t move forward with adoption because of a backlog in the court system.

The last eight months have been emotionally draining for Ryan Jolly, who’s been a foster parent for close to a decade.

“His case is just frozen in time right now,” she said of her 3-year-old foster child.

In February, the state of Kansas terminated the parental rights of the boy’s biological parents.

“It is the end stage of the reunification process,” she explained. “Once parental rights are terminated, the family, mom and dad, have a statutory, legal 30-day window to file an appeal.”

The appeal, even if the boy’s biological parents wanted to, never happened as the courts closed earlier this year in response to COVID-19.

Some courts have since reopened, but it’s still a struggle for Jolly, particularly because her child has a serious medical condition. Yet the boy’s biological mom and dad still legally have parental rights until the appeal period is completed.

“So questions about who makes medical decisions for him,” she said, “if he has end of life decisions, which is a possibility based on his needs, who is responsible for that continues to be a challenge.”

“It’s very frustrating,” said Cindy Hansen, who has been a foster parent for more than six years.

Hansen and her husband have four foster children, two of whom they’re ready to adopt but canno’t because of the backlog in the court system.

“We just want them to be ours officially, and we have to wait on the other two because we want to have one adoption,” Hansen said.

“2020 has been hard for every parent;” said Megan Maciel, the director of communications and recruitment for KVC Kansas.

The agency provides case management services for foster parents and works closely with the court system.

“Lots of the systems across the state have been very innovative, have done Zoom hearings, Zoom adoptions,” Maciel said. “The judges, clerks and attorney are working really hard everybody back to speed to make sure their case goes forward.”

For Hansen, virtual adoption isn’t an option.

“It’s almost like a rite of passage for the adoption to be able to go into the court with your family,” she said.

The unknown is what concerns Jolly.

“It’s a long and painful journey for everyone involved,” she added.

Both foster parents don’t blame the state, court system or foster agencies for the backlog. They likened the state of limbo to COVID-19, adding like the virus, no one know when it will no longer be a problem.

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