Politics & Government

Sedgwick County wants access to state DCF records to help prevent killings of children

After several high-profile deaths of children living in troubled homes, Sedgwick County is asking the state to share its child-welfare database to help police know when to check on kids who may be in danger.

“We’re having a number of children killed by people that should be taking care of them,” Sedgwick County Commission Chairman David Dennis said. “I wanted to know what we could do.”

The commission authorized Dennis last week to write to Gov. Laura Kelly, leaders of the Legislature and management of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, seeking partial access to DCF’s child-abuse complaint database.

That would allow the county’s dispatch system to tell officers responding to domestic violence and other emergency calls if there had been past child-welfare issues at a particular home, he said.

Because of privacy laws and the sensitive nature of DCF child-welfare cases, information is almost always held secret within the agency unless it involves a death.

But Dennis said the county doesn’t need all the details.

“All we need is one piece of information, and that’s whether or not there has been contact” recorded by DCF, Dennis said. “So that when 911 sends out a call to dispatch a police officer or a sheriff’s officer to a location, if we could give them some kind of a signal that says there was something happening at that (house) in the past.

“Then the officers that appear at the scene can say, ‘Hey, can we check on the welfare of the children?’”

Mike Deines, communications director at DCF, confirmed there have been informal talks between the department’s Wichita management and the county “on ways to partner on different things.”

But state Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, urged caution in opening up child-welfare records to other agencies.

Sharing even limited information from DCF files could violate constitutional privacy rights of individuals and families, said Landwehr, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“Just because DCF has received a call on a problem doesn’t mean there was one,” she said. “Sometimes you have neighbors calling in false reports, ex-spouses calling in false reports, other family members that are upset, etc.”

She said law enforcement can take action on its own without tapping into DCF records.

When police respond to calls, “if it’s a domestic issue, then do a well-check on all the children and family members in the home,” Landwehr said. “That solves it.”

Dennis’ call for record sharing is particularly motivated by last month’s death of 2-year-old Zaiden Javonovich. His mother, Brandi Kai Marchant, 22, and father, Patrick Robert Javonovich, 28, have been charged with murdering the toddler, who was found dead in his crib.

The pair are also suspected of endangering Zaiden’s 4-month old baby brother, who had to be rushed to the hospital in critical condition when police found him.

Around 40 people gathered at O.J. Watson Park for a vigil to remember 2-year-old Zaiden Javonovich. Zaiden’s parents, Patrick Javonovich and Brandi Marchant, have been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in their sonÕs death. Patrick Javonovich watched the vigil from the Sedgwick County Jail through a video visitation. (May 3, 2019) Jaime Green The Wichita Eagle

The Eagle used information obtained through open records to report that someone called 911 about problems at their home at least 22 times.

“If you looked at the news recently, there were numerous calls to 911 at the location of the last death,” Dennis said. “If the officers had not asked to put eyes on those children, first of all they wouldn’t have found that one was dead and second of all, they would not have been able to save the second child. That second child is only alive because the officers took the initiative to say ‘Can we see the children?’”

Dennis said that needs to happen in every case where there have been allegations of child abuse or other family problems like drug and alcohol addiction that could be putting kids at risk.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.