The Kansas Department for Children and Families announced child welfare improvements and budget needs on Monday. The agency is also looking for public input on how to improve the child welfare system.
The agency is preparing to release it’s Request for Proposal for new foster care contracts, as they expire on June 30, 2019.
The public can share their thoughts online or at today’s public comment meeting from 4-5 p.m. at the DCF Administration Building in Topeka.
“Since starting at the agency on Dec. 1, I have actively sought input from all interested parties and concerned citizens. I realize that I cannot strengthen and improve the child welfare system without first listening to those involved,” said Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel. “This RFI (Request for Information) process will allow us to listen and gather helpful suggestions to improve how we serve the children and families of Kansas.”
Comments can be submitted online until 5 p.m. Friday. You may remain anonymous.
Once the agency compiles all the information, it will be posted on the website (without identifying information) at a later date.
As the agency looks for ways to improve, Kansas lawmakers urge the public to let their voices be heard.
“These agencies could be much more efficient, and since it’s our Kansas kids,” said Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita. “These kids have rights. These kids are citizens. For us as a legislature and as the public to not be outraged and to not be fighting to make sure these kids are safe, I think is a disservice to the taxpayers.”
What more can be done?
In recent years, DCF has faced harsh criticism from the public and some Kansas lawmakers.
KSN’S Amanda Aguilar spoke to Rep. Whipple about other areas the agency needs to improve on.
Whipple explained he’s seen small improvements under Secretary Meier-Hummel, citing the public input on new foster care contracts.
“It’s a small step,” he said.
According to Whipple, the agency needs to improve on transparency and accountability.
Whipple referenced a bill submitted by House Democrats that says if a child dies in DCF custody, the record could be requested through the Open Records Act. The bill is still sitting in committee.
“It’s one thing to say we want to get public input and we want to know what the public thinks of us, but also on the other side, we got to make sure that you’re accountable,” Whipple said. “Not just accountable to legislators, as well as the public, but also to the legal system and to the media.”
The Kansas lawmaker also wants to see an improvement in the agency’s services.
“We need to make sure that when kids go into state custody that they’re not sleeping in some office somewhere,” said Whipple. “That they’re actually put in safe homes and safe environments so that kids can begin the healing process.”
During Monday’s news conference, Secretary Meier-Hummel provided an update on the number children sleeping in offices, missing and runaway youth and current DCF efforts to end these practices.
Governor Jeff Colyer offered his support for Meier-Hummel.
“These are our kids, we have to get this right because they deserve it,” he said. “I am committed, as I know Secretary Meier-Hummel is, to improving the lives of Kansas children and families, and this will help us do just that.”