Government & Politics

Kansas will now provide daily updates on missing, runaway foster children

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday that the Department for Children and Families (DCF) will post daily counts of missing and runaway foster children in Kansas, following a push from legislators last week for more transparency in the troubled child welfare system.

The daily statistics, which will be available online, include the age, gender and amount of time the children have been missing. As of Feb. 22, there are 80 missing children in the state foster care system. Of those, 77 are verified runaways.

“The additional transparency can only help to educate the public and legislators about the processes used by DCF to locate these vulnerable citizens,” Kelly said in a statement.

Additionally, newly-appointed DCF secretary Laura Howard will provide more specific details about individual cases in closed sessions with lawmakers. Kelly said Howard will also arrange for members of certain standing committees to review case-specific information like name and location of absent or runaway foster children. After signing a confidentiality agreement, the standing committees will receive access to this information.

Child welfare has been a focus for both Kelly and the legislature following numerous reports of neglect and abuse in the system over the last two years. Howard has made transparency a key issue as she takes leadership of the department.

“We understand that legislators are concerned for the safety and well-being of the children in state custody,” Howard said in a statement. “This process is an effort to be as responsive as possible under the law while also preventing the unintended consequences of publicly identifying foster children.”

Last week, Louisburg Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner testified in support of a bill that would require DCF to alert the governor and legislature when a foster child goes missing. On Monday, Baumgardner said the Governor’s plan is a step in the right direction, but said she still hopes to advance her bill.

“We did go ahead and work that bill in committee today and did come up with additional amendments that we think are pretty significant,” said Baumgardner.

One of the amendments to SB 162 would require DCF to update the legislature and governor on the status of recommendations made by the child welfare task force. Other amendments address DCF’s concerns about confidentiality, Baumgardner said. The bill is in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare but has not yet received a vote.

While the Governor’s announcement is a step forward, Baumgardner said she wants a notification system that will stay in place for generations.

“We know secretaries change, governors change, and so we want to make sure that we have codified into law that the notification will continue,” she said.

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Lara Korte helps cover Kansas politics for the Kansas City Star. She is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism and political science.