Nov 28, 2019 11:33 AM

Kan. foster care agency trains social workers to be ‘personal 911’ for kids

Posted Nov 28, 2019 11:33 AM

Kansas Department for Children and Families' social workers hold up sheets of papers illustrating the story of a 17-year-old boy who they expect in five years to be in prison or dead if they don't find him help. Evert Nelson / The Topeka Capital-Journal


Kansas News Service

The foster kid is a 17-year-old boy who was kicked out of his home when he was 10, started using drugs by 13, and in five years is expected to be in prison or dead.

Kansas Department of Children and Families social workers check on him every day and there’s been some progress: He’s now in an independent living facility and he’s not using drugs anymore. But he still has many needs, including a coming heart transplant.

How can he be helped?

About 100 social workers from the Kansas Department for Children and Families considered that question at a bootcamp-stype workshop in Topeka on Friday with Kevin Campbell, creator of a national model called Family Finding.

Campbell said the team assigned to the boy must find relatives or people who care about him and have them intervene in the boy’s life.

“Basically you are building the personal 911 system for this kid,” Campbell said. “We call it a firehouse intervention. Quite literally, he needs a personal fire department ready to help him respond to the life he lives, which is a crisis every day.”

The goal of Family Finding is getting kids connected to someone who loves them in hopes of keeping them out of the foster care system and potentially preventing further trauma. It’s one of several programs DCF has implemented since Gov. Laura Kelly came into office this year aimed at reforming the long-embattled foster care system.

The social workers being trained on Friday came from DCF, the state’s two private contractors, and advocates from the community, said Tanya Keys, deputy DCF secretary. A strategic plan will be formed next month, while training is being implemented across the state, she said.

“The idea is that (social workers) go back and start planting these seeds, talking about these concepts and we'll get materials out to them so we can start that readiness for implementation,” Keys said.

Kevin Campbell, founder of the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness, trains about 100 Kansas social workers Friday in a national model called "Family Finding." Credit Evert Nelson / The Topeka Capital-Journal

Campbell, founder of the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness and a former foster parent, began his research in 2000 after years of hearing “This kid’s got nobody.”

He found that most foster children actually have a large family and that if they could be connected with five to eight adults who would make a “permanent relational commitment” to the child, it could change outcomes.

“The training is really about, how do you heal children who have had such harm done to them?” he said. “And importantly, how do you heal the whole family? Because this kind of generational experience has to stop somewhere.”

The training was sponsored by the Casey Foundation and Aetna Better Health of Kansas, which provides health care services for the state foster care system. Kellie Hans Reid, foster care coordinator with Aetna Better Health of Kansas, said research shows that traumatic experiences affect children’s health. 

Groups of Kansas Department for Children and Families' social workers at a 'Family Finding' boot camp on Friday at the Topeka Capital Plaza Hotel. Credit Evert Nelson / The Topeka Capital-Journal

“That, in turn, will affect their life course and their mortality, their metabolic issues, their cardiac issues,” she said. “What we know is that trauma affects the body.”

After the training this week, the team of social workers went back to the 17-year-old boy they’d been working with. He had told them he didn’t have anyone in his life to help, but through talking with him about people from his past, social workers found some — including a former school principal and a former foster father who taught him jujitsu, a sport he loves.

The social worker, who could not be identified because she works undercover to find missing foster kids, said she was trying to “give him a family, like it doesn’t have to be blood, just someone who cares about him.”

“He went from having two of us,” she said, “to having 26 of us in this week.” 

Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and is on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

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Nov 28, 2019 11:33 AM
HAUSLER: 'Early-spawn program game-changer for bass fishing'

Largemouth bass hatchery brood fish


PRATT ­– A revolutionary fish stocking program by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) has largemouth bass thriving in waters nearly void of America’s highest-profile fish not long ago, and Kansas bass anglers are taking notice.

“The early-spawn program is a real game-changer for bass fishing,” said Steve Hausler, a 50-year bass angler of Ellis, Hays Bass Anglers Association and conservation director for Kansas B.A.S.S. Nation. “This is one of the few times man has figured out how to do something better than nature. It’s really turned things around.”

KDWPT’s early-spawn bass program “tricks” hatchery brood fish to spawn up to 60 days earlier than normal when in the wild. The added time gives young stocked bass the chance to grow to a size that can survive a Kansas winter.  

Now, the number of federal reservoirs with “good” or “excellent” largemouth fishing by KDWPT criteria has doubled in the last decade. It’s just one of several programs currently improving Kansas fishing opportunities.

“It’s been all-hands-on-deck to get these programs going, and so successful,” said Doug Nygren, Fisheries Division director for KDWPT. “Credit needs to go to a lot of different people.” Nygren added lake biologists, hatchery staff and private conservation and angling groups as making major contributions.

Early-spawn bass program

Despite intensive stocking programs in the past, many Kansas reservoirs maintained relatively poor largemouth bass populations for decades. It wasn’t until recent years, when KDWPT fisheries biologists began taking an even more critical look at the situation that the limiting factors were identified.

“The problem was our young bass weren’t big enough to make it through the winters because they weren’t really big enough to take advantage of available food. Most were only 4 to 5 inches,” said Nygren. “We learned if we could grow those fish to about 8 inches, their odds of survival were greatly improved.”

In southwest Kansas, Meade Fish Hatchery manager Jason Vajnar learned to manipulate water temperatures and light levels to trick February and March brood fish into thinking it was late May, stimulating the fish to spawn up to two months early.

“We’re now stocking 1.5- to 2.5-inch bass before wild fish have even hatched,” said Nygren, “And we’re finding many more of our stocked bass now survive their first winter. After that, they’re in good shape.”

Now in its 10th year, the early-spawn bass program produces nearly 2 million fish annually, having a profound impact on angling quality. From 2005-2009, Kansas averaged four reservoirs with “good” or “excellent” rankings for largemouth bass.

This year, nine reservoirs – Big Hill, Glen Elder, Kirwin, La Cygne, Milford, Perry, Sebelius, Webster and Wilson – all earned “good” or better ratings; and, more are expected to be added for 2020 and beyond.

“In some of these lakes, like Webster and Kirwin, probably every bass they have is an early-spawn hatchery fish. Bass were once almost non-existent in these areas and now they’re two of the best bass lakes in the state,” said Nygren. “We have other lakes coming on, too. Kanopolis never really had a bass fishery but it’s pretty good, now.”

Georgia cubes

Quality bass habitat is always a concern, especially in Kansas reservoirs where natural habitat, like submerged brush piles, can quickly deteriorate. That’s why in 2015, Kansas biologists began experimenting with artificial habitat, sinking 4-foot cubes made of PVC pipe, interlaced with flexible sewer pipe, into lakes and reservoirs. As expected when they were invented in Georgia, the “Georgia cubes” instantly attracted Kansas bass and consequently, bass anglers.

Submerged in prime locations, the cubes are sometimes placed in clusters of up to 20 or more – configurations fisheries biologists refer to as “fish cities.” The clusters – which can quickly introduce a significant amount of habitat in areas previously void of underwater structures – are expected to pay dividends for decades to come.

There are currently more than 2,000 cubes attracting fish in KDWPT-managed waters, with more being added every year. Anglers can obtain precise GPS coordinates for every cube/cluster at

Financing, constructing and placing the cubes wouldn’t have been possible without the support of area bass clubs, lake organizations and even Boy Scout troops interested in improving their local waters.

Steve Hausler

“B.A.S.S. Nation has been challenging local clubs to get involved in local projects. These cubes are perfect,” said Hausler. “They’re so easy to build and we can get three or four on a bass boat, take them out and place them. They’ve been a great way to get anglers involved.”

Though highly successful, artificial fish habitat won’t completely replace natural structures, as many fisheries biologists still see benefits in sinking cedar brush piles and planting dense water willows in shallow areas.

But the progressive thinking of KDWPT Fisheries staff doesn’t stop at habitat. Strides are also being made in the way of revitalizing forage fish populations in lakes and reservoirs in need.

Threadfin shad have been successfully introduced at Horsethief Reservoir in Hodgeman County instead of common gizzard shad, a species which could have quickly overpopulated the 450-acre lake.

Add to the mix newly-flooded habitat created by this year’s heavy rains, and these great programs become even better.

“It’s kind of a perfect set up,” said Nygren. “We should be experiencing some really great fishing in Kansas the next several years.”

For more on fishing in Kansas, and to download an electronic version of the 2019 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary, visit