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Legislators criticize DCF for keeping report secret

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at 2:08 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, July 13, 2014, at 10:30 p.m.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families’ assertion that it won’t publicly disclose results of an internal review about practices at its Wichita office is being criticized by a bipartisan group of legislators.

“You have to have accountability,” Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, said Wednesday. “If there’s no accountability, that’s a big problem.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said, “There’s absolutely no way they can keep this a secret. Child protective services is too important.”

The state confirmed earlier this month it was conducting a review after public concerns were raised that Diane Bidwell – then DCF’s regional director for Wichita – was improperly guiding at-risk children to FaithBuilders for adoption or to be placed in foster care. Bidwell resigned voluntarily last week, DCF officials have said.

But the DCF has cited attorney-client privilege as the reason for not making the report public. The Eagle filed a request Tuesday week for the report under the Kansas Open Records Act, but the request was denied, citing the same reason.

Agency spokeswoman Theresa Freed said in the response that DCF secretary Phyllis Gilmore was considered the client for the report and that the department’s general counsel was the attorney.

“Confidentiality needs may need to be considered,” said Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita. “But to suggest attorney-client privilege should preclude an investigation just does not pass muster.”

Ward said of the attorney-client privilege stance, “That’s crazy.”

He said he has requested that DCF give him a copy of the report. Knox said he also was considering asking for a copy.

Hedke said a legislative panel should be formed to see the report.

“I agree with multiple, bipartisan legislators who have expressed concerns regarding the indications that have surfaced in association with DCF and FaithBuilders,” he said.

Ward agreed the Legislature should have means to see the report and the details behind it. But he said that if DCF wanted to do it in an executive session, which would be closed to the public, “They also need to justify why.”

“We have to do everything we can on this,” he added. “If the concerns are true, we have to know what they’re doing to fix this so these vulnerable kids are protected. If they’re not true, we have to reinforce to the public that this agency is is working the way it’s supposed to.

“You can’t take the position it’s a secret.”

Knox said he met with DCF officials last month to discuss several issues, including the ones raised about the Wichita office and FaithBuilders, but didn’t get much information.

“They are tight-lipped,” he said. “I did most of the talking. I came away with the feeling that they really hadn’t said very much.”

The report was initiated after Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, asked Gilmore to look into some concerns she had been told about. She said she plans to request a copy of the report.

Among the issues Faust-Goudeau listed was that Bidwell or others in her office provided confidential information to FaithBuilders, blocked adoptions by some parents and circumvented the court process on parental rights.

Mary Dean, a community activist who wrote a letter dated Sept. 3 to the state agency expressing numerous concerns about FaithBuilders and the Wichita office, said she sent a KORA request to DCF asking for the review.

“They’re doing the state’s business,” she said, “and we need to know what they’re doing.”

In her e-mail, Freed said the report was a preliminary review provided to Gilmore.

“We are continuing to this day to carefully and thoroughly review any Kansas Department for Children and Families cases that involve FaithBuilders,” she said.

She also said that to her knowledge the DCF hadn’t received any complaints about FaithBuilders from families.

“Other parties have raised concerns, which prompted the review,” she said.

She said anyone with information on the subject can contact Niomi Burget, DCF’s constituent services director, at 785-296-3271 or niomi.burget@kcf.ks.gov.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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