Madeline Fox | KBIA

Madeline Fox

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service covering foster care, mental health and military and veterans’ issues.

Madeline caught the bug for Kansas reporting as a college intern at the Wichita Eagle. She also worked at WLRN in South Florida, where she covered everything from parades to protests to presidential residences and got swiftly addicted to Cuban coffee.

She cut her teeth as a political reporter covering transportation for the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in U.S. News, Military Times, The Miami Herald, NPR Weekend Edition and others.

A native of Portland, Oregon but a Chicagoan at heart, Madeline graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a second major in international studies that she mostly used as an excuse to study abroad in Spain and conduct research in the Paris suburbs.

Gene Bicknell’s name is all over the campus of Pittsburg State University, his alma mater. It’s on a sports complex. The arts center is simply known as the “Bicknell,” after the homegrown entrepreneur.

But while he’s beloved as a civic booster in Pittsburg, the former businessman is far less endeared to tax officials in Topeka, from whom he’s just wrested back $48 million in revenue.

Hutchinson building official Trent Maxwell recalls the city, years back, inspecting the home of a woman whose gas had been shut off for nearly a year.

“She was using one burner on the electric stove to heat water to bathe her little kids,” he said.

The woman finally got fed up and called city officials. She’d held off, she said, because her landlord threatened to land her in jail if she summoned inspectors. That wasn’t true. But she believed the threat.

“No one,” Maxwell said, “should have to live like that.”

Twice, Rep. Jarrod Ousley introduced bills that would create a watchdog over the Kansas agency in charge of looking after children from troubled families.

It’s a massive department hounded by stories of overlooked abuse cases and foster children caught in punishing patterns of shifting from one temporary home to the next.

Ousley says he’s dropping the idea of a state child advocate. For now.

Before Laura Kelly took over as governor, the Kansas Department for Children and Families overhauled which private companies would manage its child welfare system, and how the department would oversee their work.

Kelly put the brakes on that whole plan in December.

On Thursday, she announced she’d be rolling back major parts of the changes. She canceled grants with two companies and said the state would renegotiate grants with three companies.

Nicole Nesmith’s voice shakes a little when she recalls the night her child, Phoenix, revealed a painful secret.

“Phoenix got really quiet and was like, ‘I have something to tell you and I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I’ve been cutting for about a month now.’”

Kansas’ new governor wants to fix the state’s foster care. Fast.

Laura Kelly isn’t the first governor to highlight a crisis in child welfare, or to inject cash into the Department for Children and Families.

Expectations run high for Kelly, who sat on a task force examining the child welfare system for more than a year. She’s made fixing foster care a high priority — it was one of just three topics she homed in on in her State of the State address last week.

Kansas goes further than any other state in kicking local and state government out of decisions about nutrition labels and portion sizes, leaving that and other food policy up to federal lawmakers.

In a recent study, New York University researcher Jennifer Pomeranz said Kansas did more to limit local control than the 13 other states that passed similar laws.

Kansas Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids hoped to spend her first day in Congress helping to end a partial shutdown of the federal government.

Instead, she got a first-hand look at the gridlock that has characterized the nation's politics and frustrated voters in recent years.

Shortly after being sworn in as one of the first two Native American women to ever serve in Congress, Davids voted for a compromise funding package to end the budget stalemate.

Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly announced Thursday that she’s replacing the head of the state’s embattled child welfare agency, and at the same time putting on hold new grants for private contractors to manage foster care and family preservation services.

African-American children are much more likely to land in the Kansas foster care system than white children.

A report from Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope, a coalition of organizations and people who have experience with the foster care system, concluded that Kansas falls in line with national trends. But the disparity in Kansas, with black children 75 percent more likely than white children to be pulled from their homes, has gotten worse in the past two years.

Studies show even children raised by parents with money problems or substance abuse tend to fare better than those routed through a chronically troubled foster care system.

So the federal government wants states to invest more heavily in keeping troubled families safely together.

Washington has promised to match every dollar a state spends on certain family preservation programs. The Kansas Department for Children and Families is suggesting $3.9 million, less than 1 percent of its yearly budget.

Every Wednesday night, some Wyandotte County residents gather in the back room of a community health center in Kansas City, Kansas.

On gridded sheets taped to a whiteboard, sometimes they scribble classic grocery store items — milk, cheese, meat. 

The Kansas Legislature showed its tendency to be both more conservative and more liberal on Monday.

The selection of House leaders took the Republican and Democratic factions a bit more to the right and left, respectively, while creating a more polarized Legislature facing Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly.

Turmoil marks the troubled norm for foster care in Kansas.

Now political, financial and legal forces look poised to slam the system into a new level of chaos that makes seasoned child welfare professionals worried about a barrage of change.

This story was updated to include comments from the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

A lawsuit filed Friday contends Kansas violates foster children’s civil rights by moving them too often, adding to their trauma and restricting their access to necessary mental health treatment.

The National Center for Youth Law, Children’s Rights and Kansas Appleseed filed the suit against Gov. Jeff Colyer and the heads of the Department for Children and Families, the Department for Aging and Disability Services and the Department of Health and Environment.

Campaign spending is super high. Voter registration in Kansas is hitting records. And it's not just the governor's race that's going down to the wire. 

The Kansas News Service team looks at last-minute ads, considers candidates' closing arguments, and what voters might be excited about going into Election Day. 


A University of Kansas study linked tighter welfare rules to a growing foster care load.

The state agency overseeing those programs backed those same new rules. Now, it’s hired a research team to question the findings of the KU study.

Local organizers in Dodge City fought for more, and more accessible, polling places even before their lone, out-of-the-way voting location drew national attention.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union sued County Clerk Debbie Cox.

Brooklynne Mosley doesn’t like the term “blue wave.”

The Air Force veteran walked into the Kansas Democrats’ Wyandotte County field office wearing a T-shirt bearing the face of U.S. Senate candidate and liberal darling from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, and passing out buttons that read “throw shade, then vote.”

This week, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, Kris Kobach, called for more stringent work requirements for Medicaid and welfare recipients in Kansas. That drew more comparisons to former Gov. Sam Brownback from Kobach's Democratic rival, Laura Kelly. 

Meanwhile, Kelly picked up an endorsement from yet another former Republican governor. And independent Greg Orman insisted he’s not a spoiler in the race.

And new congressional campaign fundraising reports in the 2nd District show political newcomer Steve Watkins, running as a Republican, is continuing to get support from his father and a lot of help from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's super PAC. In the same period, veteran Democrat Paul Davis's take was a record for the district.

The Kansas News Service team walks through this week’s campaign headlines.


President Donald Trump is coming to Kansas this weekend, and some Republican candidates are hoping that will provide them a boost. That includes the Republican newcomer running for Congress in the 2nd District, who’s fending off more questions about his background, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Meanwhile, Kobach's Democratic opponent in the governor's race, state Sen. Laura Kelly, is trying to tie him to former Gov. Sam Brownback.  

Jim McLean, Stephen Koranda, and Madeline Fox of the Kansas News Service discuss whether any of it will sway voters.


This week, the Democrat, state Sen. Laura Kelly, and the Republican, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, clashed over school funding with the Kansas governor’s race still neck-and-neck.

The race for the 2nd Congressional District in the eastern part of the state is a dead heat too – though new revelations that Steve Watkins only worked as a consultant for a company he said he built from scratch could be trouble for the Republican newcomer.

Jim McLean, Stephen Koranda, and Madeline Fox of the Kansas News Service are watching for what could start to separate the candidates.


Another Republican broke ranks this week to endorse the Democrat in the Kansas governor’s race. And an attack from the 2014 governor’s race resurfaced, this time in the battle for a 2nd Congressional District seat. Jim McLean, Madeline Fox, and Stephen Koranda of the Kansas News Service catch up on the latest from the campaign trail. 


The alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl while she was waiting for a foster care placement in May has many asking about consequences for the contractor, responsible that day for both the girl and the 18-year-old accused of assaulting her.

On a Facebook Live session Wednesday, Department for Children and Families secretary Gina Meier-Hummel fielded a question about why the contractor hasn’t been dropped.

Confirmation hearings begin this week for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

One issue state lawmakers may find most significant is reproductive rights and how Kavanaugh responds to questions regarding Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that gave women the constitutional right to choose abortion.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins says Kavanaugh told her that he views the landmark abortion rights ruling as "settled law."

The incident Julie Burkhart remembers most clearly about the 1991 Summer of Mercy is the man who attached himself to the front gate of a Wichita abortion clinic using a U-lock.

Burkhart was a college student working at one of the three abortion clinics open in Wichita at the time. Today, she runs the one of two clinics left in the city.

The counting, sorting and contesting of ballots in the Republican primary for Kansas governor continued on Monday. It could be just the beginning.

Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer last week began criticizing his rival for the nomination, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for how he was overseeing the election and how he had schooled local election officials on provisional votes.

(This story has been updated to reflect new developments.)

On Wednesday, the contenders in the Republican race for governor pledged to back the ultimate winner and to make sure their photo-finish primary wouldn’t stall any general election campaign push.

Come Thursday, incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer made clear that he thought his opponent and state election overseer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was exactly the wrong guy to be certifying the results.

The fact that seemingly everyone and his wife are gunning for the Kansas political major league, the governor’s office, has opened up all four spots in state’s lesser statewide offices.

The other four statewide elected offices in Kansas — attorney general, insurance commissioner, treasurer and secretary of state — are up for grabs. Only one incumbent who’s previously been elected to his current office is running this time around.

The number of children in foster care in Kansas went down in May and June, the first such two-month drop in more than a year.

Pages