Government & Politics

Hundreds tell DCF leader how to improve system for Kansas' abused, neglected kids

Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. File photo

Kansas' new child welfare leader asked the public to provide ideas on how to improve private foster care contracts and fix the system meant to protect the state's most vulnerable kids.

Hundreds of people weighed in.

Gina Meier-Hummel, the secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said Monday that she's in the process of reviewing the 393 concerns and comments. After vowing for months to be transparent as she attempts to improve the system, Meier-Hummel said she and her staff plan to respond to each concern. All of that will be made available to the public at a later date, officials said.

"We want to thank everyone who took the time to share their thoughts," Meier-Hummel said in a news release. "Clearly the public cares about this issue and wants the best for Kansas families."

Among the concerns? High turnover rate of caseworkers, insufficient oversight of contractors, high caseloads, lack of funding for staff and not enough training.

The agency has been under scrutiny for more than two years after high-profile deaths of children across Kansas and the revelations of children sleeping in offices and kids missing from foster care. DCF’s past lack of transparency in addressing these issues was a main feature in The Star's November series on secrecy in Kansas government.

After the series, child welfare advocates and lawmakers demanded change.

Meier-Hummel took over DCF in December. Last month she said she wanted to hear from the public on how private foster care contracts should be improved and what changes needed to be made.

Gov. Jeff Colyer appointed Meier-Hummel to the top DCF post and the pair have vowed to try to fix what's wrong and be more open. This request for public input was part of that, both said.

"We have made it a priority to listen to all parties involved, so that we can make informed decisions regarding the well-being of children and families in our state," Colyer said in the release. "This was just one step in the process of ensuring that we protect the best interest of those we serve."

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, sat down for an interview with The Star earlier this year.