The embattled Kansas Department for Children and Families will be taking public comments this week on its child-welfare contractors, but you'll have to move fast if you want to be heard.
The DCF has issued a rare "request for information" seeking input on its contractors' performance from families, foster parents, staff and concerned citizens. The contracts are set to expire June 30.
“Since starting at the agency on Dec. 1, I have actively sought input from all interested parties and concerned citizens," DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said in a statement. "I realize that I cannot strengthen and improve the child welfare system without first listening to those involved.”
According to the department, it is the first time in years, maybe ever, that the department has issued a request for information seeking public feedback on its contracts.
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A public meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Topeka and online comments will be accepted until the end of the business day Friday.
The department, which oversees child welfare and foster care, has been dogged recently by major issues involving child safety, missing foster children and youths being housed in state offices while awaiting placement.
The DCF announced the request for information following a news conference Monday by Meier-Hummel. She acknowledged that problems persist in the department but said officials are doing what they can to solve them.
For example, she said the department has now hired two investigators to find missing foster children, most of whom have run away from their assigned placements.
She said the current number of children missing from placements is 74, a number that has been as high as 90 and as low as 65 in recent months.
She also proposed $24 million in additional funding over three years to hire dozens of new workers to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect.
The DCF has had difficulty filling jobs, and the investigators will not need to be licensed as social workers when they are hired, Meier-Hummel said.
Meier-Hummel has been the chief at the DCF since December, part of a shakeup brought on by criticism over high-profile deaths of children in abusive homes. Those included the death of 3-year-old Evan Brewer, the grandson of former Wichita mayor and governor candidate Carl Brewer.
Comments on DCF contractors' performance will be taken at a meeting scheduled from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at DCF headquarters, 555 S. Kansas Ave., Topeka. Speakers will be given two minutes for their remarks.
Online comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday at a department Web site, www.childwelfarecontractfeedback.dcf.ks.gov.