Politics & Government

Child protection agency fires two Wichita workers, investigates work of others

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The Kansas Department for Children and Families has fired two staff members and is investigating the work performance of others in the Wichita region, the agency said Tuesday.

“As I looked at each region, it became evident that there were concerning trends in the Wichita Region we needed to address,” DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said in a statement.

“Quite simply, if we aren’t fulfilling our mission to serve the children and families of Kansas to the best of our abilities, then critical changes are needed."

DCF on Tuesday made a “number of personnel changes,” the agency said. It is also implementing a corrective action plan in child welfare programs.

The agency said it fired the two workers over the past several weeks. And it said “several other matters are currently pending while we further investigate work performance." DCF work performance is also being reviewed statewide.

The statement doesn't identify the employees.

DCF — and its Wichita office specifically — have come under intense scrutiny over the past several months amid child deaths and reports of abuse.

DCF received several reports that 3-year-old Evan Brewer had been abused prior to his death last year. The boy was found encased in concrete in his Wichita home, and internal agency records showed missteps.

Five-year-old Lucas Hernandez has been missing since February. Concerns about possible abuse had been previously reported to DCF.

And this week, The Eagle reported on the case of 2-year-old Anthony Bunn. His mother and her boyfriend were arrested on suspicion of murdering him. An attorney representing the boy’s maternal grandparents said in a court document that the system failed to act in the child’s best interests.

Meier-Hummel ousted the previous leader of the DCF Wichita office, Bill Gale, in February. In a letter to employees at the time, she referenced “recent tragedies involving children” as well as a top-to-bottom review of the agency.

On Monday, Meier-Hummel named Thomas Buell to lead the Wichita office. He was previously the family preservation services program administrator within the agency.

Administrative staff also have been assigned to the Wichita Service Center over the past four weeks to review open child abuse and neglect cases and to “strengthen oversight in the region,” the agency said. DCF said this arrangement will continue into the foreseeable future.

“Across the board, the vast majority of our staff are hardworking, dedicated individuals who change the lives of Kansas children and families every day, but we cannot shy away from issues that arise as we review our systems,” Meier-Hummel said. “I have absolute faith in Thomas Buell’s leadership. I know he will come alongside the Wichita Region staff to strengthen our programs.”

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