Recent announcements suggest that a new and improved day will soon dawn for the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Not so fast.
Yes, the often-criticized secretary of the agency is stepping down Dec. 1. And Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has named a replacement, Gina Meier-Hummel, a longtime child welfare advocate. …
But the departing leader, Phyllis Gilmore is merely the figurehead in a fatally flawed agency. She is but one person in a closed system overseeing the 7,000 children in the state’s care.
The agency’s culture of secrecy and its unwillingness to be forthcoming in the face of criticism persisted with the help of officials at the top, middle and bottom of the bureaucracy. …
Now, major changes are urgently needed as Meier-Hummel begins her work. It’s a good sign that the new secretary is from outside of the department — she is the head of a Lawrence children’s crisis center — but is familiar with DCF, having worked in the agency and for one of its foster care contractors.
A thorough review of the department will be Meier-Hummel’s first objective, a decision supported by Colyer.
Experts say two attributes are necessary for a state child welfare agency to run smoothly: accountability and transparency.
Kansas does not have enough of either one.
… Appallingly, Kansas has been unwilling to be forthcoming with either child welfare advocates, the Legislature or the media when probed about the most heinous of outcomes — children who have died while being overseen by the state. More scrutiny and more transparency are essential to identify missteps and develop better practices.
Some critics’ questions have suggested that many of the problems stem from the state’s privatization of its services in the late 1990s.
The issue isn’t simply that the state privatized; rather, the question is how the state has managed that arrangement. Kansas has winnowed its contracts down to two agencies, a structure that is convenient for the state, but not necessarily in the best interest of children. …
Gilmore’s retirement allows for a fresh start and provides the opportunity to begin the crucial work of meticulously laying out plans to ensure the agency can function more effectively. This is the state of Kansas’ chance to reaffirm its commitment to the children in its care.
— The Kansas City Star