A bill requiring the Kansas Department for Children and Families to release specific information in a timely manner when a child dies from abuse or neglect is a step in the right direction and should be approved.

The Kansas House gave first-round approval Wednesday to the bill, which would require DCF to disclose information about a child who dies of abuse or neglect within seven days of a request being filed under the Kansas Open Records Act.

The bill is in response to high-profile cases involving DCF and children who died from abuse and neglect, even after the agency had received reports about the child, as well as children who died while in custody of the state’s foster care system.

DCF would have to disclose the age and sex of the child, the date of the death, a summary of any previous reports of abuse or neglect the agency received involving the same child, along with the findings of such reports; and a description of any services DCF had provided to the child.

It would also require DCF to make the same kind of disclosure within seven days about any child who dies while in state custody, even if the death is from an accident.

Many of the incidents occurred during Phyllis Gilmore’s tenure as secretary of DCF. She resigned Dec. 1. Gina Meier-Hummel, of Lawrence, replaced Gilmore and sought the legislation.

“I know that child welfare has been an issue at the top of the mind for many of us over the last couple of years, and the last couple of sessions, and it is an important topic that needs further work,” said Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “But this is a step in the right direction.”

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that legislators need to continue working toward even more public disclosure in cases involving children.

“But given all of the circumstances here, this is a very good start,” Carmichael said. …

Greater transparency is sorely needed and long overdue at DCF. Lawmakers should pass this legislation and continue working to further open records surrounding child deaths.

— The Lawrence Journal-World