New information on a Wichita child whose body was found encased in concrete last year shows he had been reported to Kansas’ child welfare agency eight times, and one of those hotline calls never made it to an investigator.
Those details were in a stack of documents the Kansas Department for Children and Families released to the family of Evan Brewer and the Wichita Eagle late last week. The pages of hotline calls and reports — with some of the material redacted — were released after months of battling for information by Evan’s family and media outlets across Kansas, including The Kansas City Star.
The revelations have some lawmakers worried about the possibility of missteps in other high-profile child deaths in recent years, including the death of Adrian Jones in Kansas City, Kan. And it’s why, they say, more information must be provided immediately after a child dies so problems in the system can be fixed before another child is hurt.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican. “It can’t all be just about Wichita. No, it’s frightening. It really is, it’s frightening. I expect the more they dig, the more they're going to find.”
A House proposal that would make some information public after a child’s death will have a legislative hearing Tuesday afternoon in Topeka. Acting DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, as well as Gov. Jeff Colyer, have said they’re behind HB 2728, which would allow the public to know if there were hotlines calls and what the agency did in response to those calls.
When Meier-Hummel took over on Dec. 1, she pledged to be transparent as the leader of a troubled system that has been under intense scrutiny for the past two years. In addition to questions over several child deaths, the agency faced pressure after the public learned that more than 70 children were missing from foster care and that other foster children were forced to sleep in offices when no placements were available.
On Friday afternoon, Meier-Hummel met with Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, and the family’s attorney to discuss the case, which DCF recently had reviewed. In that first face-to-face meeting with the father, Meier-Hummel admitted that DCF had made a mistake in Evan’s case, said Shayla Johnston, the family’s attorney.
In September, Wichita police discovered the body of the 3-year-old encased in concrete inside the home where the boy’s mother and her boyfriend had lived. Carlo Brewer had made repeated requests to DCF to check on the boy.
The acting secretary, Johnston said, became tearful at times on Friday and revealed that one of the documents in Evan’s file had been altered after the boy’s death. That document was related to a hotline call made on May 14 that wasn’t passed on to a social worker investigating the case.
The caller described violence in the home, possible meth use by Evan’s mom and her boyfriend and said the child was afraid in the morning to go to the bathroom because he would have to walk by the bedroom where the two adults slept. Because of that, he had accidents.
In most instances in the documents, Evan’s name is blacked out. But a stamp at the bottom includes EBrewer on nearly every page.
“When I see these records, I’m furious that my client is being told that DCF cannot legally give him documents with his son’s name on them,” Johnston said Monday of the delay in getting detailed information from the agency. “There’s nothing more showing of guilt than a government not giving their documents.”
After meeting Friday with Carlo Brewer and Johnston, who is Carlo's cousin, Meier-Hummel released to The Eagle part of Evan’s file. She said she had offered her condolences to his family and listened to their concerns. She also released a statement to the media:
“Changes to strengthen the system have already begun, and I vow these will continue,” she said. “These reforms include, but are not limited to, personnel, policies, procedures and training. Personnel will be held accountable.”
Early last week, DCF announced the ouster of the Wichita regional director. "Bill Gale was relieved from his appointment yesterday afternoon,” Gina Meier-Hummel said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government and how it harms residents, The Star found a pervasive effort inside DCF to hide behind privacy laws and internal procedures to keep the public from knowing how it operates. Those practices are particularly acute in cases where children are seriously injured or killed by parents and guardians who were known to the agency.
Before Meier-Hummel took over, DCF had refused for more than a year to answer questions on topics ranging from open records and the deaths of specific children to runaways in foster care.
The new information in Evan’s case brings additional urgency to making changes, said Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat who is on a child welfare task force looking into the state's system. For months he has insisted he is willing to work with DCF to make the system safer.
“That’s a pretty big admittance of some pretty big mistakes,” Ousley said. “When it potentially cost a boy his life. ... I bet this is the beginning of a laundry list of mistakes that we discover if we start looking into things and how they’ve been operating.”
Meier-Hummel and Gov. Jeff Colyer announced last month that they were pushing the new bill that would make certain information public after a child’s death. The two said the released information would provide critical accountability and allow the agency to tell more of the story after a tragedy.
That proposal, HB 2728, faces a hearing Tuesday afternoon in the judiciary committee.
When Colyer announced the new DCF leader late last year, Meier-Hummel said she would be transparent and would review every child death. She also pledged to review recent deaths, including Evan's case and that of Adrian Jones, the Kansas City, Kan., boy who had been repeatedly abused and tortured, was starved to death and his body fed to pigs.
Both of those cases have been reviewed by the new administration, Meier-Hummel told The Star last month. She wouldn’t elaborate.
When asked about the Brewer case Monday, Rep. Susan Humphries, a Wichita Republican on the House judiciary committee, said she’s been impressed with Meier-Hummel’s leadership.
"There's always concerns when there's any sort of harm to children," she said. "But ... I think they've shown us in the last week that they're taking steps to address issues."
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat and the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary committee, said Meier-Hummel still has more to do.
"While I still believe the new secretary is vastly better than the former secretary ... I certainly hope that the secretary does more than just the apology that she delivered to the family on Friday."