Kids in Crisis Get New Refuge
By MARY SANCHEZ
June 3, 2015
It’s bad enough when parents do wrong by children to the point that police must take kids from the home to ensure their safety.
In Wyandotte County, increasing numbers of young people face the reality of protective custody. And it’s been heart-rending for the sheriff and his deputies. There haven’t been enough foster homes willing and licensed to accept the children. And only four beds were available in a duplex operated by PACES, a non-profit agency providing services for children and adolescents dealing with emotional and behavioral health issues.
So Sheriff Donald Ash and his deputies did their best. They set up temporary housing in their offices — providing meals, cots, air mattresses and clothing. Some weeks, as many as 20 youths, ages 3 to 17, would temporarily cycle through.
Last year, an additional 100-plus children were shuffled around the state in desperate hope of finding them a safe, temporary place to stay. Sometimes that meant five to six siblings had to be separated and driven by deputies to different corners of the state.
No longer. Robert’s Place — a home in the best sense of the word — will open later this month. The location of the 5,000-square-foot shelter, also operated by PACES, is confidential, reflecting the dangers and often adult-driven drama in these children’s lives.
The $1.1 million to build the home was raised in less than a year. The Hall Family Foundation led with a $150,000 gift. And then seemingly the whole area got involved: a rotary group, a church, a school, utility workers, a steakhouse.
The house is at the end of a long neighborhood street, with woods on two sides. A tall privacy fence will allow kids to play outside. Ten children can stay at once, waiting out the 72 hours before a judge must decide their next step or, in some cases, as families receive help to stabilize.
A massive great room opens to a kitchen with a long wooden dining table. The warm color scheme of neutrals was chosen to exude calm. The downstairs is finished as a playroom and includes a child’s tool bench and kitchen, dolls and other specially chosen toys. Kids in trauma often want to “fix” things.
Only the bedrooms have pops of turquoise, lime green and other bright colors. The staff was aware that overstimulation is not helpful for stressed children. Instead, fleece blankets were ordered. Children tend to wrap themselves, a self-comforting move. New socks, underwear and pajamas will be an ongoing need, as the children often arrive without clean clothes.
Finally, some of the most neglected children in Wyandotte County will have the type of home they deserve.