What’s going on at the Kansas Department for Children and Families?
The Kansas Department for Children and Families “failed thousands of families” over the past few years, says Carl Brewer. The Democratic candidate for governor whose grandson was found dead and encased in concrete last year isn’t ready to praise the agency’s new leader.
Democrats running for governor are divided over DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel. Sen. Laura Kelly has embraced her, but others are taking a more hesitant approach.
“DCF’s immediate history of dishonesty and lack of transparency must be remedied. Describing Meier-Hummel to be an ‘agent of change’ is putting the cart before the horse. Meaningful change means restructuring DCF, and starting over with new leadership from outside Topeka,” Brewer said in a statement.
Kelly, of Topeka, was among the senators who supported Meier-Hummel at her confirmation hearing last week. Meier-Hummel will act as an “agent of change” and she’ll be leading the way at an agency that has “nowhere to go up but up,” Kelly said.
A Senate committee voted unanimously to send Meier-Hummel’s nomination to the full Senate, which may vote this week to confirm her as secretary. She’s been serving in an acting capacity since December.
Brewer’s statement made no reference to his grandson Evan Brewer. The three-year-old Wichita boy’s body was found encased in concrete in September. Evan’s mother, Miranda Miller, and her boyfriend, Stephen Bodine, are in jail and charged with murder.
A family spokeswoman has previously said that DCF officials informed the family that a case file was dishonestly altered after Evan’s death.
Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, is Carl Brewer’s son. Carl Brewer has said his family sought welfare checks on Evan from DCF multiple times.
Records released to The Eagle show a report of detailed allegations of abuse was not forwarded to a social worker investigating the case. Evan was never removed from the home, where he lived with chronic methamphetamine users who are now charged with his murder.
“(DCF) has failed thousands of families across the state over the past six years. We have heard from countless people desperately trying to get the protection they need for their kids but they have not received an adequate response from the state agency,” Brewer said.
House Democratic Leader Jim Ward, who is also running for governor, said he wants to know what actions Meier-Hummel has taken to prevent dishonesty at the agency and what methods are in place to ensure new rules and procedures being followed.
“She presents well. She says the right things. But back in the rooms where we don’t get to follow her, where we don’t get to track – what’s actually happening and how can I hold her accountable?” Ward said.
Democratic candidate Josh Svaty advocates a wait-and-see approach.
“Honestly, she’s not been in the position long enough to make a full assessment,” Svaty said.
Kelly said that as governor she will consider people for positions regardless of party or affiliation.
“I will take into consideration that our agencies have been under incredible stress over the past seven years and that my intention would be to make appointments that reduce that stress, that allow for as much continuity if things are going well rather than unnecessarily upsetting the apple cart,” Kelly said.
Gov. Jeff Colyer brought on Meier-Hummel to reform the agency amid intense public scrutiny over child deaths, children missing from foster care and others who sleep in offices because placements can’t be found.
Meier-Hummel is asking the Legislature for a $16 million budget increase for DCF. The additional funds will be used to hire more child welfare staff, reserve emergency beds to keep children from having to sleep in offices, and hire more investigative staff to help track down missing youth.
Last month, she also dismissed Bill Gale, who was leading the DCF’s Wichita regional office. Recent “child tragedies” in the area helped drive the decision.
Some DCF staff also are being re-trained, Meier-Hummel has indicated recently.
“We know that we have a lot of work to do to gain the public’s trust in terms of being transparent,” Meier-Hummel told lawmakers last week. “We know that there have been some things that haven’t gone so right in recent years, so we’re working very hard to own those difficulties when they exist and not hide from them but tell the public what they are and tell the public what we’re doing about them.”
Meier-Hummel replaced Phyllis Gilmore, who retired as DCF secretary late last year. The announcement of her departure came weeks after the discovery of Evan’s body and revelations that upwards of 70 children are missing from the state’s foster care system.
Sam Brownback was governor at the time, but Colyer announced her selection.