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Some Missouri foster children may need mental health services, expert testifies

Many churches in the Kansas City area have established programs to help families become foster parents. The need is great, with nearly 14,000 children in the state’s foster care system.

Some of them, however, may be better served in the mental health system, an expert testified at a recent hearing before the Missouri Legislature, Missourinet reported.

“When we have a child welfare response to a child that may not really be a child welfare situation, but it’s the only resource that the family can do to keep their family safe perhaps, but also to get the child the services they need, are going through the child welfare system,” said Mary Chant of the Missouri Coalition of Children’s Agencies.

The state’s foster care system is not built to handle mental health issues, she said, adding that Missouri could receive federal funding for a dozen programs.

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“We need mental health resources, especially for these older youth, who are 17-, 18-, 19- years old,” Chant said. “They’re not child welfare. They need mental health, they need developmental disability resources.”

Around six in 10 kids in the child welfare system are there because of neglect instead of physical or sexual abuse.

“There are other opportunities to engage earlier in the process and keep the child in the home safe with supportive services for the family, which saves both in financial costs but also just life costs,” she said.

Missouri is a few steps past doing true prevention, Chant sad. True prevention happens through better access to public health care, stable housing, employment and good transportation.

Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, chairs the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

For more information about becoming a foster parent, visit the Missouri Department of Social Services website.