Credit the Kansas Department for Children and Families with taking the concerns about Wichita’s FaithBuilders seriously – so much so that it has put foster-care placements with the nonprofit group on hold. But DCF needs to be more transparent with the public as well as legislators, who at least have now been promised more information.
Secrecy can serve the public interest in child welfare cases when it protects the young and vulnerable. But DCF’s refusal to reveal results of what it’s now calling a “preliminary review” of practices at its Wichita office appeared self-interested and had drawn bipartisan criticism from the Legislature.
“If government is going to be taking children from their homes, there has to be accountability. There has to be transparency,” Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service.
“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 working the way it’s supposed to,” Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, told The Eagle.
DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore wrote to these and other concerned lawmakers on Thursday, assuring them that “we are quickly and thoroughly reviewing each and every DCF case in which FaithBuilders has been involved” and there have been no allegations that any child in a home associated with the group is in danger of abuse or neglect.
The concerns that triggered the inquiry are very serious, stemming from allegations that under DCF’s former Wichita regional director, who resigned last week, the Wichita office was involved in sharing confidential information with FaithBuilders, blocking adoptions by some parents and circumventing the court process on parental rights.
As acknowledged by Gilmore’s letter to lawmakers, the questions to be answered concern not just FaithBuilders’ activities but the Wichita DCF office’s dealings with the group: “I am making it a top priority to determine if DCF policies and procedures were violated. If that has occurred, appropriate action will be taken. This may include changes in staffing, training and policies.”
It will be up to lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback to watchdog Gilmore’s internal investigation, ensuring it’s thorough, and to insist on accountability as needed. The public must not be in the dark either.
“Like Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘Trust, but verify,’” Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board, on Thursday.
That always wise advice takes on special urgency when children’s welfare is at stake.