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Kansas Legislators Weigh Creating Independent Child Welfare Watchdog

File Photo
Kansas News Service
Some legislators want an independent watchdog advocating for children and monitoring the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Kansas lawmakers are considering creating a watchdog based outside the state’s child welfare agency, but with access to inside information.

A bill to create a child advocate to review the Department for Children and Families comes after years of horror stories of abused children who ended up injured, missing or dead.

DCF already has an ombudsman for foster parents and youth, but Judy Conway said that’s not enough to keep kids safe. Conway’s grandson, Adrian Jones, was tortured and killed by his father and stepmother in 2015 before being fed to pigs.

“DCF was involved in his life, and even though people came forward and made calls and stated that Adrian was being abused, it didn’t go anywhere,” Conway said. “Adrian ended up paying with his life.”

Conway testified before the House Children and Seniors Committee on Tuesday. She said she believes an independent investigator could have gotten involved in Adrian’s case sooner, saving his life.

DCF staff attorney Brian Dempsey spoke on behalf of the agency against the bill. He said that while the DCF secretary has made accountability and transparency two of her top priorities, the department doesn’t think an advocate outside the department is necessary.

“Do we really need another layer of bureaucracy?” Dempsey said.

The advocate would report to Kansas’ department of administration, instead of to DCF, as the current ombudsman does.

The new watchdog’s responsibilities and powers would be very similar to those of the Missouri ombudsman’s office — powers to investigate, request confidential records, subpoena documents and otherwise review how well the state is protecting children.

Missouri’s Office of the Child Advocate currently has five staff members, including one investigator. The Kansas bill would provide for only one advocate, though it does direct the office of administration to provide administrative support and staff as necessary.

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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