What’s going on at the Kansas Department for Children and Families?
A leading state senator on child welfare called it “horrific” but unsurprising that someone in the state’s child protective services made a change in the case file of a Wichita 3-year-old whose body was found encased in concrete.
Kansas Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel met with Evan Brewer’s family on Friday ahead of the release of records on the child’s case. Family spokeswoman Shayla Johnston said Meier-Hummel told the family a form had been changed and that “there was dishonesty” in the change.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, said she had previously heard about a possible alteration, but had no proof. She is one of a handful of lawmakers to sit on the state’s Child Welfare Task Force.
“It’s horrific. But unfortunately, the administration we’ve had, it doesn’t surprise me. I think you dig anywhere, you’re going to find things. It will probably take years to unravel what’s been done,” Bollier said.
Gov. Jeff Colyer repeated promises to reform DCF on Monday and vowed additional transparency. He also appeared to acknowledge that some high-profile cases had come to symbolize problems within the agency.
Some lawmakers say they are skeptical about Colyer’s promised changes. The records released by DCF show the agency made a mistake in the lead-up to Brewer’s death.
The documents show that a report of detailed allegations of abuse was not forwarded to a social worker investigating the case. DCF released the records Friday after extensive legal efforts by The Eagle.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam, also sits on the Child Welfare Task Force. The administration has done a lot of “verbal identification” of problems, he said, but changes haven’t been implemented long enough to see if they’re working.
“So I remain skeptical…because I dealt with the last administration that said, ‘We’ve got all this going on and we’re working on it and we’re implementing this and we’re changing this policy and we’re retraining this staff,’” Ousley said. “That’s all they said for years.”
Lawmakers created the task force last year. It has been examining the state’s foster care system since last fall.
Its monthly meetings have produced bombshell disclosures, from children sleeping in offices while waiting for placement to 70 children being missing from the foster system at any given time. The revelations increased public scrutiny of DCF as Colyer prepared to take over for Sam Brownback, who resigned in late January. Colyer had been Brownback’s lieutenant governor.
Colyer said Monday he wants the state to be “more transparent and open about the problems” in DCF. The agency has a number of issues, he said, without elaborating.
“We’re all aware of a couple very specific cases that are emblematic of some of the problems,” Colyer told a lunch-time gathering of House freshmen where he answered questions from lawmakers.
DCF will face additional scrutiny later this week. Meier-Hummel’s Senate confirmation hearing is set for Friday. She now is serving in an acting capacity.
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said Meier-Hummel has increased transparency and has “spoken about changes that need to be made in the system.” Schmidt chairs the Child Welfare Task Force and the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, where the confirmation hearing will be held.
Meier-Hummel and Colyer have both promised greater openness. The agency is supporting legislation that would require, after the death of a child, that the secretary release the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality, a summary of previous reports to the agency and findings, as well as any department recommendations of services provided.
A hearing on the bill is set for Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
At the legislative lunch gathering, Colyer was asked about the dismissal of Wichita DCF regional director Bill Gale last week. Meier-Hummel has said the agency lost confidence in his leadership.
“This is something more than just a couple of cosmetic changes. In terms of personnel…we’re dealing with regional directors or if there are thing that clearly are egregious, I won’t tolerate it. Period,” Colyer said Monday.
Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann, who briefly joined the legislative lunch group, said “we want to be the most open governor and lieutenant governor in Kansas history.”
Colyer left immediately after the event and didn’t stop to take reporters’ questions.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Barbara Bollier's name.
Contributing: Tim Potter