Reports show inadequacy of Kansas child protection agency

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The state of Kansas failed to protect Evan Brewer and for months hid behind state law in keeping Department for Children and Families records away from family members.

That much is clear. What’s becoming more clear is the degree to which the state’s child-protection agency inadequately responded almost every time 3-year-old Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, asked for help over 11 months before Evan’s body was discovered Sept. 2.

The Eagle asked former Children and Families official Dianne Keech to review 284 pages of documents the agency released to the family and public — after months of legal wrangling. Keech was a DCF deputy director for two years and spent time as part of the Child Death Review Board. She has an extensive career in child protection.

What she found should concern every Kansan.

Before Evan was found encased in concrete — his family thinks he was killed 3 1/2 months earlier — there were six reports of abuse made to Children and Families. Keech said the agency failed to adequately address all risk and safety concerns in five of six reports, and didn’t collect all relevant information in four of six.

The most alarming incident was an April 22 call to the Children and Families hotline, where it was alleged Evan’s mother’s live-in boyfriend bragged about strangling the boy until he was unconscious. The incident report was closed six days later.

“If they don’t do the right thing there, it seals his doom,” Keech said.

Three days later, a social worker went to the couple’s home but the boyfriend, Stephen Bodine, closed the door on her.

Children and Families could have asked police to get Bodine to produce Evan. A day later, Evan’s mother told the social worker Evan was with her sister in Oklahoma, but the social worker didn’t try to confirm it.

Bodine and Miranda Miller, Evan’s mother, have been charged with first-degree murder.

It has been almost three weeks since the new secretary of Children and Families, Gina Meier-Hummel, and a department lawyer met with Carlo Brewer and his cousin, Shayla Johnston. Johnston is a lawyer representing Brewer.

Johnston said officials told them “there was dishonesty” in the “alteration of a document” in Evan’s file. Add the analysis of Children and Families’ poor performance and it calls into question the agency’s ability and diligence in fighting for Kansas children in need of advocates.

Meier-Hummel is new to her role, taking over for Phyllis Gilmore, who retired late last year after she lost confidence from many lawmakers. Meier-Hummel and Gov. Jeff Colyer have promised improved standards of accountability and transparency, statements that gubernatorial candidate Carl Brewer — Evan’s grandfather — has dismissed as premature.

It’s clear that Children and Families needs restructuring. Meier-Hummel has taken over an agency that, among its problems, rarely takes licenses from social workers, is secretive in providing information that casts it in an unflattering light, and can’t account for all of its foster children.

If Meier-Hummel is to have success, she is going to have to go beyond the promise of a thorough review of the agency and make substantive changes that show that Children and Families acknowledges its deficiencies and is working at regaining Kansans’ trust. As it is, too many of the state’s children are suffering.