Before long we will celebrate Thanksgiving, which is a time to come together with those we love and reflect on the many blessings in our lives. As I write this, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the feeling of joy I receive from my incredible family and friends, the professionals I work with daily and the amazing honor of being able to serve as your Sheriff.
As excited as I am to spend time with loved ones and catch up with friends, I can’t get one thing out of my mind, though. And to be honest, it’s been weighing on me for several months. As most of us gather in homes, feeling safe and loved by those around us, there are many who won’t experience that feeling. The law enforcement profession is incredibly rewarding in most aspects, but there are some not so pleasant things we have to do, as well. One of those tasks include removing children from homes whose parents have either been taken into custody or allowed conditions in the home to be such that the children are no longer safe being there. It’s our responsibility to watch out for those children – to make sure they are safe. Being removed from their home is a confusing and potentially traumatic event. They are led from their comfort zone by a law enforcement officer and begin going through a process that is difficult (if not impossible) for them to understand. After leaving their homes, those children are generally brought to our office, where an assessment is done and child advocates attempt to find an emergency placement home for the child to stay for a couple of days until a court hearing can be conducted. Unfortunately for Cherokee County children, there are few emergency foster homes in our county. As a result, over the past several months, we have been forced to send our kids to homes in Wichita, Andover, Topeka and other areas across the state.
When I see and visit with these kids sitting in our office, hearing the advocates make numerous calls, trying unsuccessfully to find a nearby emergency foster home for the kids to stay at for just a couple of days, it saddens me. I’m saddened because we have so many incredibly loving families in Cherokee County who may be able and interested in opening their homes to a child in need. It saddens me because I realize there is a misconception that you need to be wealthy in order to provide emergency foster care when in reality you don’t, and foster families can be reimbursed for expenses. It saddens me because despite knowing we have wonderful families who are willing to open their homes for a night or two, they become discouraged by the authorization process from the agencies that regulate temporary foster homes. It saddens me that those agencies and sub-contractors don’t make more of an effort to reach out to Cherokee County families to recruit more temporary foster homes and simplify the process. Most of all though, it saddens me to think of those kids, who generally come from a shaken home life to begin with and will now spend the next 3-4 hours in a patrol car as they are being driven to a strange place somewhere across the state to stay with people they don’t know and then not have the support system of their friends and teachers at school the next day to help them cope with what’s going on in their lives.
I don’t typically like to point out a problem without trying to offer up a solution, but maybe the first part of the solution is just raising awareness and encouraging a conversation. So, as we all gather this Thanksgiving, maybe we can talk about the possibilities about opening our hearts and homes, even on a temporary basis, to help the children of our community.
I sincerely hope you all find yourselves surrounded by loved ones, that you feel safe and cared for and that God Blesses you!
Sheriff David M. Groves