New Kansas Governor Tackles Child Welfare System Challenges

Kansas’ new governor Jeff Colyer (R), who was sworn in on Jan. 31, wasted no time in proposing changes to the state’s child welfare system.

Last week, Colyer and Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel introduced new legislation designed to provide the public access to information following the death of children due to abuse or neglect.

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer

House Bill 2728, which was introduced Feb. 8, requires the secretary of DCF to release information to the public in the case of a child’s death suspected to be caused by abuse or neglect. The information to be released includes the child’s age and sex, date of the fatality, and a summary of DCF involvement with the child and any recommended services provided for the child.

“I feel strongly this new legislation will allow us to share more information, thus answering many questions the public has, in a timely manner when these unfortunate tragedies occur,” said Meier-Hummel in a press release. “The agencies (sic) goal is to keep Kansas children safe and when tragedy occurs the public deserves to know what our involvement with a family has been.”

This proposed bill comes after the state was criticized for not releasing information in the 2015 death of Adrian Jones by his father and stepmother despite repeated reports to social services and child welfare agencies in Missouri and Kansas. A wrongful death suit is pending against social workers from both states’ child welfare agencies.

Following Adrian’s death, a state audit of the foster care system highlighted other areas of concern about lack of adequate oversight of contractors providing foster care services which was further explored by a Child Welfare System Task Force in 2017. Amid that scrutiny, former secretary of DCF, Phyllis Gilmore, retired and Meier-Hummel was hired in December to replace her.

Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel

Because former Kansas Senator Sam Brownback had been nominated by President Trump to become an ambassador, Brownback allowed then-lieutenant governor Colyer play a larger roll in governing the state and ultimately chose Meier-Hummel to lead the Department of Children and Families.

In his first joint address to the Kansas legislature, Colyer noted that change of leadership and the focus on child welfare system change for the state.

“We take seriously our responsibility to care for Kansas children in crisis,” Colyer said. “One need only pick up a newspaper to see examples of the extreme evil that exists in this world … Unfortunately, government will never be capable of preventing all these evils. But, we can and we must do better.”

Secretary Meier-Hummel is “working with outside experts on a top-to-bottom review of our state’s child welfare system,” Colyer said.

The governor also identified several areas he plans to focus on in reforming the states child welfare system. The list includes hiring more child welfare staff, creating emergency placement options so kids aren’t sleeping in offices, hiring investigative staff to locate missing foster youth, and investing in community-based family preservation and family strengthening programs.

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