A task force formed to fix Kansas’ troubled foster care system relied largely on the ideas of a lone member to meet a deadline for preliminary suggestions, reflecting the daunting nature of its job and some troubles within the panel.
The Child Welfare System Task Force, formed in June 2017, submitted its first report, including preliminary recommendations, to the legislature on Monday.
But lawmakers only scheduled 35 minutes to discuss that first report at their most recent meeting. Some task force members said that wasn’t enough to encourage any meaningful progress.
“I was personally a little shocked by the little amount of time that was set on the agenda for the day to talk about it,” said Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat and one of the most vocal backers of the bill that created the task force. “I was hoping to have a more thorough discussion.”
Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Republican from Lenexa, was the only task force member to present a list of recommendations at the December meeting, the group’s last before the preliminary report was due. Her list of concerns and recommendations, with a few additions, appeared in the report sent to the legislature on Monday.
Gallagher was surprised there wasn’t more robust discussion of the preliminary findings.
““I’m a little bit disappointed that we don’t have a better formal report to the legislature,” she said. “But it is very early, so I think a lot of people just thought we’re not far enough into it yet to really have very much to say at this point.”
Much has changed for the task force since its first meeting in August. Phyllis Gilmore was the embattled former head of the Department for Children and Families and a frequent target of criticism about Kansas’s struggling foster care system. She retired December 1. A member of the task forced, social worker and former DCF administrator Gina Meier-Hummel, took her place.
And on Tuesday, the task force’s vice chairman, Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, left the panel after criticism of racist remarks he made at a town hall earlier this month. He also resigned from the House Children and Seniors Committee, which sponsored the original bill establishing the task force and is one place where potential legislative fixes to the child welfare system’s problems could originate.
On Monday, Secretary Meier-Hummel and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer announced DCF is looking for more money to address some of the more dramatic issues that surfaced during the task force’s four meetings, including kids sleeping in foster care contractors’ offices and an increasing number of kids entering foster care. Ousley said he was encouraged to hear the administration is making child welfare a priority.
“Things are still moving,” he said. “This report may not be all I wanted it to be, but that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward.”
Editor's note: A previous of this story misstated Jarrod Ousley's party affiliation. Rep Ousley is a Democrat.
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 kcur.org.