Amid ongoing controversy in the Kansas Department of Children and Families, state lawmakers moved last week to introduce a bill to make the release of information about the deaths of children in state custody more transparent.
The move comes in response to several high-profile cases where a child had been brought to the attention of the embattled Department for Children and Families and later died. The bill requires the agency to release information about kids who die as a result of abuse or neglect.
In addition, the Kansas DCF has at least 77 missing foster children among those ultimately in their care. In addition, claims of secrecy within the department were brought to light last year by former DCF Deputy Director Dianne Keech. She said multiple case file documents were destroyed at the request of DCF attorneys. A legislative task force took up the issues in November of 2017.
Task force member and State Senator Laura Kelly posed the document shredding question to DCF officials in November last year. She later said, ““My question was very specifically, ‘Have social workers been asked to shred notes that they have taken during meetings on kids in custody?’ I don’t have the answer to that question from them yet.”
Such factors led to the eventual resignation/retirement of former DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore last year who claimed to know nothing about 70 missing child cases at the time the information was first made public.
Gilmore had already announced her resignation prior to the November task force hearings, which she chose not attend, prior to her resignation becoming official on December 1, 2017. Updated reports from as recent as February of this year have the number of missing children in the system as high as 80.
Under terms of the bill, an open records request would require DCF to release the child’s age, gender, when they died and a summary of any reports they’d gotten about abuse or neglect in the child’s case. It would also have to report what the department had done in response to those reports.
Lawmakers amended it to apply those same requirements to any child who dies in the state’s custody.
Another amendment says that if the secretary or anyone else asks the court to seal records, anyone requesting the records would be notified. That would allow them to make their case to a judge about why those records should be made public.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill with the amendments. The measure must pass the full House and the Senate to get to the governor’s desk.