New CASA program will help foster children transitioning into adulthood

Two Kansas City-area chapters to provide case managers, mentors for older teens

by Alex Smith, Heartland Health Monitor

Growing up in foster care can be challenging, but many of the biggest problems foster children face occur after they age out of the system.

Among the sobering statistics: More than one in five become homeless, nearly three out of four girls become pregnant by age 21 and only half are gainfully employed at age 24, according to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a St. Louis-based national foundation that assists young people leaving foster care.

Two Kansas City-area chapters of the national nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, on Wednesday announced the creation of a program to help foster children prepare for the time when they’re too old to qualify for foster care.

Martha Gershun, CASA executive director in Jackson County, Mo., described it as similar to the mentoring and life preparation children receive from parents in traditional families.

“These are youth who often have been in multiple foster homes,” Gershun said. “They have been moved around a great deal, and they haven’t had that consistent adult looking out for them.”

The CASA Transition Program for Older Foster Young will employ a case manager to help them find medical, educational and therapeutic services they can use as adults.

Children will begin working with the case managers starting at age 15. In Kansas, foster care services end when children turn 18. In Missouri, they end between age 18 and 21.

Organizers say the program will serve about 75 foster children in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and in Jackson County, Mo., during the first year. About 1,640 children are under court protection in the three counties.

The new program also will provide volunteer mentors to help aged-out foster youths through age 26.

Gershun said that she and Lois Rice, executive director of CASA of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties, already have received positive feedback from the teenagers who will get the additional help.

“What we’ve found is that they are greatly relieved that someone is saying, at the age of 15, ‘I’m gonna stay with you for the next three years to get you ready,” Gershun said.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.

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Texan pleads guilty in designer drug case in Kansas

A Texas man pleaded guilty Friday to selling designer drugs manufactured in Kansas, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

Michael Myers, 36, Montgomery Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Myers was indicted in April 2014 along with co-defendants Tracy Picanso and Roy Ehrett, the owners of an Olathe-based business that produced and sold dangerous controlled substances and controlled substance analogs of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and methcathinones (stimulants). Picanso and Ehrett are scheduled for sentencing April 18, 2016.

Picanso and Ehrett sold products to distributors under names including Pump It, Head Trip, Black Arts, Grave Digger, Voodoo Doll and Lights Out. Some of the counterfeit drugs were manufactured in buckets with drill-powered immersion mixers and tried out on “testers” who helped tweak the recipes.

Myers and co-defendant Michelle Reulet lived together in Houston, Texas, and owned and operated Bully Wholesale, an independent wholesaler and distributor of products purchased from Picanso and Ehrett.

Ehrett routinely traveled from Kansas City to Houston to pick up cash from Reulet and Myers. On at least two occasions Myers met Ehrett in Oklahoma to transfer in excess of $100,000 cash to him. Investigators collected emails and text messages exchanged among the defendants. In an October 2011 email, for instance, Myers claimed the fake weed he was selling would not show up on a drug test. In a January 2012 email to Ehrett, Myers says he and Reulet were buying $600,000 to $900,000 worth of products each month from Ehrett and Picanso.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 25, 2016. Both parties have agreed to recommend a sentence of seven years in federal prison and a civil forfeiture of more than $1.3 million.

Grissom commended the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, the Overland Park Police Department, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the Olathe Police Department, the St. Joseph Police Department and the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Mattivi for their work on the case.

SUV rolls over in I-35 accident

An accident at 10:55 a.m. Oct. 22 on I-35 northbound, just south of Southwest Boulevard, resulted in a rollover of a sport utility vehicle.

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol trooper’s report, a 2002 Oldsmobile sport utility vehicle was northbound on I-35 when the driver lost control. The vehicle rolled and came to rest on I-35, according to the report.

The driver of the SUV, an 18-year-old woman from Blue Springs, Mo., had a possible injury and was taken to a hospital in Kansas City, Kan., according to the report.