Foster failure: What happened in the Kindle/Steffes case

Jeremy Kindle and Scott Steffes were model foster parents. They’re now in prison for sexually abusing their foster kids and other children who were under the supervision of Allen County Children Services. What happened?


Jeremy Kindle assured investigators that the allegations were nothing new. A quick call to the head of Allen County Children Services would clear everything up.

“She can tell you that stuff was investigated and unsubstantiated and that (redacted) and (redacted) have done this before,” Kindle told investigators on May 20, 2020, referring to then-executive director Cynthia Scanland, who would soon be terminated for her alleged role in mishandling sexual abuse allegations involving Kindle and his husband, Scott Steffes.

Kindle, a licensed foster parent and on-call nurse for Children Services, was called into the Lima Police Department that day after a 12-year-old boy ran to the Allen County Juvenile Detention Center to report him for sexual assault.

It was the first time investigators from LPD had heard of the allegations. But investigatory records reviewed by The Lima News show that Children Services was first alerted to potential sexual abuse inside the Kindle-Steffes household about 11 months prior.

The Lima News reviewed police transcripts and investigatory files that weren’t available for public inspection until after Kindle and Steffes pleaded guilty and exhausted their appeals, as well as Children Services policy manuals and invoices Kindle submitted for his nursing work.

Those records show Children Services received at least two reports alleging Kindle and Steffes were sexually abusing teenage boys entrusted to their care that it apparently failed to report to a third party, potentially violating state law and internal policy, according to investigatory records and past statements from the Children Services board.

Two senior administrators resigned, while Scanland was terminated and charged with records tampering, obstructing official business and dereliction of duty for the agency’s alleged mishandling of the abuse allegations.

While Kindle and Steffes have since pleaded guilty to various sex crimes against children, Scanland has yet to stand trial. Kindle received a 94-year prison sentence. Steffes was sentenced to 47 years in prison.

‘God put these kids in our home’

Kindle and Steffes started fostering children together soon after they were married in 2016, eventually adopting three boys.

The couple acted as unofficial spokespeople for Children Services, speaking to prospective foster parents, starring in promotional videos and talking to reporters.

When the couple adopted three boys between the ages of 3 and 8 in 2018, they called the press to document the occasion.

“We’ve been very blessed,” Kindle told The Lima News that day. “We firmly believe that God put these kids in our home, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to adopt them today.”

But in private, investigatory records show Kindle and Steffes routinely coerced several of their foster children and other boys staying in their home into performing sex acts with the couple, using a combination of gifts, threats and masturbation to persuade the boys into participating.

Dirt bikes, weed and a deal

By the time of their arrest, Kindle and Steffes were fostering three boys and sheltering another three boys temporarily displaced by a housefire in addition to their three adopted children, all of whom were at one point under Children Services supervision.

The boys were free to smoke weed or stay overnight with girlfriends, investigatory records and interview transcripts show.

The couple gifted the boys dirt bikes, cash, flat-screen TVs and other luxuries they were unaccustomed to having before moving into the Kindle-Steffes household. And if they found themselves in legal trouble, Kindle and Steffes were there to help.

Kindle once reportedly offered fake urine so one of the boys could pass a drug test at Children Services, one of the boys told Lima Police Det. Trent Kunkleman in May 2020.

And Kindle agreed to pay for stolen goods when another boy was caught shoplifting from a hardware store, albeit in exchange for sexual favors, investigatory records and interview transcripts show.

Groomed to behave

The abuse reportedly started when Kindle suggested the two masturbate in front of two of the boys for “fun,” Steffes told investigators, though he later implied Kindle may have started sexually abusing children before they met.

Soon, the couple regularly performed oral sex on the boys, who would perform anal sex on Kindle and Steffes in return, according to investigatory records. Kindle coached the boys how to respond when Children Services asked questions.

The sex was so conspicuous that other boys in the home started to notice, as they saw each other enter the couple’s bedroom, according to the investigatory records.

Steffes admitted to having sexual contact with several of the boys, while Kindle reportedly had sexual contact with six boys and one adult, one of whom reportedly had sexual contact with Kindle more than 500 times, court records show.

But years would go by before Kindle and Steffes were caught.

At one point, Steffes told investigators that he wanted to stop after he and Kindle were reported to Children Services. But Kindle reportedly texted Steffes, a stay-at-home dad, while he was at work and demand Steffes have sex with the boys, according to transcripts of Steffes’s interview with the Lima Police Department.

The first check-up

For nearly 20 months, Kindle was one of the first people a child entering Children Services custody would meet.

Kindle signed a contract with the agency in September 2018 to perform intake medical exams, or basic physicals intended to check incoming children for lice, communicable disease and signs of illness, injury or maltreatment.

He presented the agency with a stellar resume: licensed foster parent, lay pastor, volunteer, nurse.

The role required Kindle to stay on call so the screenings could be completed within a few days of the child’s placement, according to a Children Services handbook outlining policies in place while Kindle was a contractor for the agency.

When Kindle signed his first of two nursing contracts with the agency, he asked Children Services to donate his earnings toward a fund for incoming foster kids so they could purchase pre-paid smartphones and other essentials, though the agency informed Kindle he would have to make those donations on his own, contracts reviewed by The Lima News showed.

Invoices show Kindle earned $473 for performing the exams, each of which took anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half to complete.

All invoices were signed by a witness, though some signatures are illegible.

Kindle performed his last intake exam for the agency two days before the 12-year-old boy reported him to the JDC in May 2020.

Reforming Children Services

The Children Services board appointed Sarah Newland, a former assistant prosecutor working on behalf of Children Services, to act as the agency’s interim director while an investigation into Scanland and two other senior administrators was underway in the summer of 2020.

Newland was formally hired as executive director last March, while experienced child welfare workers were appointed to senior administrative roles. The agency also thoroughly reviewed and revised its policies.

Meanwhile, then-board president Dr. Jennifer Hughes said in a written statement in August 2020 that the board was working to improve transparency and enact safeguards so employees could more easily go outside the chain of command if they felt pressured not to report.

Agency officials declined to speak to The Lima News about these reforms, citing Scanland’s upcoming trial.

“Complaints of child abuse and neglect in Allen County are treated very seriously, given thorough consideration and handled with child safety at the forefront of every decision made at our agency,” Greg Sowinski, a spokesperson for Children Services, said in an email to The Lima News.

‘She’s keeping them out on purpose’

Kindle downplayed the allegations when confronted by detectives on May 20, 2020, a stark contrast to Steffes, who confessed that evening.

But in doing so, Kindle drew attention to Children Services, which first learned about the abuse allegations in June 2019. The agency received a second report four months later, shortly after Kindle signed his nursing contract with Children Services.

Kindle was let go that evening, setting off a manhunt that ended when he slit his own throat with a circular saw in an attempt to evade arrest. He survived.

Lima Police Det. Steve Stechschulte questioned why his department was never notified of the reports, as state law and internal policy required Children Services to notify law enforcement or a third party when a foster parent is accused of sexual abuse.

Kindle offered contradictory answers, at one point insisting Scanland was hardly involved in investigations before telling Stechschulte that it was her directive not to involve law enforcement.

“She’s keeping them out on purpose,” Kindle said. “She’s told us this in meetings.”

An attorney for Scanland, David Thomas, declined to comment for this story due to the upcoming jury trial in February but noted that Scanland pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Close relationships and ‘clouded perceptions’

Agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation raided Children Services offices on May 27, 2020, one week after LPD opened its investigation into Kindle and Steffes.

Months later, in August, the Children Services board terminated Scanland’s contract and accepted resignations from two program administrators, Brent Bunke and Staci Nichols, who were the subject of an external investigation.

The board concluded agency staff likely failed to follow protocol by not reporting allegations it received about Kindle and Steffes, though a press release said there was no evidence any of the employees believed sexual abuse was taking place inside the home. Instead, the board said the errors were because “close relations between the foster parents and the agency clouded these employees’ perceptions,” according to a written statement provided to The Lima News at the time.

Scanland was criminally charged a short time later, in September 2020, though she received three-and-a-half month’s pay — half of what her original contract entitled her to — from a separation agreement she and the Children Services board signed.

She has yet to stand trial after a series of delays, even after Kindle and Steffes pleaded guilty to amended charges late last year and early in 2022. Her latest trial date was rescheduled from Oct. 17 to Feb. 6, 2023, after the court was unable to find a court reporter for the October trial.

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.