Kansas state lawmakers couldn’t get it done, so Gov. Laura Kelly took the matter into her own hands and established an entity intended to bring stronger accountability to the state’s troubled child welfare system.
Kelly signed an executive order early this month establishing the Division of the Child Advocate, a move she described as “a commonsense win for Kansas kids and families.”
“For years, our state’s essential family services were neglected and underfunded — leaving our kids and families more vulnerable than ever before,” she said. “Fixing those systemic problems has been a top priority for my administration, and the Division of the Child Advocate is a significant step forward to ensure every Kansas child is protected from harm.”
Lawmakers attempted to address the problems in the most recent session but failed to come to an agreement over whom an advocate’s office should report to, so Kelly stepped in. Under her executive order, the advocate’s office would have a measure of independence from the governor. She’ll appoint the officials in charge, but neither she nor lawmakers will be able to fire them before their set terms are over.
Because an executive order can easily be overturned or dramatically changed by a subsequent governor, lawmakers will likely renew an attempt to make the office permanent through legislation, according to Senate President Ty Masterson. Key Democrats and Republicans agreed that Kelly had struck a reasonable compromise.
Kelly’s order seeks to protect Kansas children and families by providing an independent oversight and accountability system for public and private entities involved in child welfare. The Division of the Child Advocate will take complaints made on behalf of children, review the work of agents in the system and make annual reports and policy recommendations.
The division would also be in charge of coordinating between state agencies, contractors and partners, educating children and parents regarding their rights under state and federal law and helping families navigate the child welfare system.
Kelly’s order also creates protections for people who file complaints to the child advocate and sets up a system for reporting wrongdoing.