by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
March 27, 2023
TOPEKA — Following a years-long power clash over who should be in charge of foster care oversight, House lawmakers on Monday passed a bill creating an independent office in state law.
House Bill 2443 would establish the Office of the Child Advocate as an independent state agency with a nonpartisan oversight board. The child advocate would be appointed for a four-year term by the board, with the first candidate confirmed in January 2024.
The office would receive, investigate and resolve child welfare system complaints and provide oversight of the system, with the overarching goal of improving the safety and well-being of Kansas children.
The state’s child foster care system has been riddled with issues for years. In June of 2022, a federal watchdog agency found that Kansas had one of the highest rates of missing foster children from July 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2020. A 2022 study from the Center for the Study of Social Policy found that 53 foster children slept in offices 167 times in 2021, and that only 65% of foster children were able to get the mental health services they needed.
Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican and chairwoman for the House Child Welfare and Foster Care Committee, described the bill on the House floor as an alternative to the Division of the Child Advocate.
“We need to put it into statute to stabilize it now, allow access to all information,” Concannon said, referring to the proposed office.
Gov. Laura Kelly created the Division of the Child Advocate under executive order as a stopgap measure for the overburdened foster care system in October of 2021, after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a proposed office.
Lawmakers criticized the move, saying children in foster care should have independent oversight, instead of being under the administration of the governor.
“This has been several years getting to this point,” Concannon said.
The House advanced the legislation after debate, then took emergency final action to pass the bill by 116-7 vote.
The Senate has considered similar legislation. The two chambers are expected to work out a compromise before the end of the regular session next week.
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