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Here For Kids

Since 1893 the children of Kansas have had a friend. Someone who would look after them if they became orphaned or abused. Someone who helped teach their mommies and daddies how to be better parents.

A place to call home.

In the 19th century, orphaned or abused children often ended up in orphanages or reform schools. Concerned Kansans felt these kids deserved better. They formed the Kansas Children's Home Society in 1893 with the state's governor as its first president. Across the state, the Society's representatives -- mostly clergymen -- began placing needy kids with temporary "boarding mothers" while monitoring their care and working to find adoptive homes for them.

In 1921 the headquarters was moved into a large Victorian house in Topeka that served as a temporary "receiving home" for the children. They often needed medical treatment, eyeglasses, education, counseling, and other services that were provided by the Society.

Advocating for kids.

The Society also advocated legislation to protect children, including laws restricting child labor, regulating adoptive and foster care, defining and prohibiting child abuse, and requiring proper care and education for disabled children. These efforts helped shape much of the local and national legislation that affects children's well-being.

The Society merged with two other agencies over the years: the Christian Service League in 1926 and the Kansas Child Abuse Prevention Council in 1993. This led to greater efficiencies in receiving funding from local "community chests" (many of which would become United Ways). It also allowed the agency to join the new Child Welfare League of America, which allowed only one representative organization per state.

In 1928, the KCSL stood at the forefront of progressive social services, serving more children than nine other agencies combined. It helped establish standards for social work practice and requirements for licensing of social workers. In the 1930s to help combat the stresses of the Great Depression, it helped establish the state agency that is now the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). While two new government programs, Social Security and Aid to Dependent children, enabled more families to stay together, by the 1940s, the "bootlegging traffic in babies" who were sold by individuals or unscrupulous agencies became a major concern.

Adoption of infants was a major part of the League's work in the 1950s and 1960s. The 1970s and the Pill led to fewer unwanted pregnancies and the phasing out of adoption services, with the exception of special-needs adoption and KCSL’s unique Black Adoption Program in Kansas City.

During the next decades, the agency continued to pioneer services to meet the changing needs of children and families. Among the highlights:

  • Head Start established in western Kansas and new office built in Garden City.
  • Emergency shelters for children and youth started in Topeka, along with a program to assist law enforcement officials with appropriate placement of juvenile offenders and children in need of care.
  • A teen-pregnancy prevention program launched in Kansas City.
  • Respite care developed in Topeka and Manhattan to help families with special-needs children.
  • Keys for Safe Kids plus Youth and Family Crisis Line started in Wichita for latchkey kids.
  • Children's Coalition formed to speak out on behalf of children, monitor legislation, and brief public officials and candidates.
  • Merged in 1993 with the Kansas Child Abuse Prevention Council, which added The Parent Helpline, parent support groups, a statewide network of child abuse prevention affiliates, and expanded parenting education and professional training opportunities. The development of Healthy Start Plus followed to support at-risk parents of newborns.

The Kansas Children's Service League Today

In the 1990s, states nationwide began to look at managed care and privatization as better ways to deliver and fund services. In 1996, Kansas became the first state to extensively privatize services provided by the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Since that time, KCSL has partnered with SRS to meet the needs of children in the State's care in a variety of ways. Currently, KCSL is the statewide contractor for the Adopt Kansas Kids web site, a resource for finding families for children in the child welfare system who are available for adoption. In addition, KCSL provides resource family homes, focusing on children with higher levels of need.

KCSL remains a leader in the provision of programs aimed at strengthening families, preventing child abuse and neglect, and interventions that prevent children coming into foster care. In recent years, KCSL has also expanded its mental health services, re-introduced its infant adoption program, and re-claimed its position as a leading advocate on behalf of Kansas' vulnerable children and families. The agency has expanded Healthy Families, an in-home parenting support program for parents of children ages zero to three, to nine Kansas counties and has expanded The Period of PURPLE Crying©, an evidence-based prevention program offered by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, across the state, covering 41,000 of the 42,000 of live births in Kansas. In 2009, KCSL assumed responsibility for the grants and services provided through the Shawnee County Family Resource Center. Now operating as the KCSL Family Resource Center, these programs enable KCSL to provide a more comprehensive array of services to children and families in need. KCSL joined with the Wichita Child Guidance Center in July 2011, combining mental health services, strengthening community visibility and creating operational efficiencies between two programs with shared values and compatible target populations.

While its programs today are more far-reaching than its founders could have imagined, its aims are the same. The words of founder O.S. Morrow still hold true: "The Children's Home Society stands first, last and all the while for the child, and our actions are determined in every instance by what... will be for the best interest of the child, both for the present and for the future."
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