Lawrence’s Gina Meier-Hummel has no small task ahead as she takes the helm of the embattled Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Meier-Hummel, who replaced Phyllis Gilmore as DCF secretary on Dec. 1, got off on the right foot last week during a meeting with a legislative task force reviewing the Kansas foster care system. Meier-Hummel certainly said the right things, pledging improved public transparency at DCF and committing to reviewing all of the agency’s operations.
“Peeling back the layers, if you will. What’s working, what’s not working,” Meier-Hummel said. “We will be an agency of compassion and experts, and we will be gracious.”
That would be a change from DCF under the leadership of Gilmore, who bristled at criticism and rejected data that showed problems within the agency.
A 2016 state audit showed that DCF had failed to conduct thorough background checks on licensed foster care providers, failed to conduct required monthly in-home visits of children in foster care and almost always granted waivers for families who do not meet space and financial resources guidelines to serve as foster parents. Gilmore’s response? She dismissed the audit’s findings and criticized the media for reporting them.
Many suspected Gilmore had an unwritten policy of discriminating against same-sex couples in the placement of children in foster care or adoptive homes, an accusation she denied. She also was criticized over the number of children who died while in foster care or after DCF had previously been notified of suspected abuse or neglect.
In October, it was reported that more than 70 children in the foster care system — about 1 percent of the total number of foster children in the state — were reported as missing. Critics said Gilmore seemed unaware and unconcerned about the information. The department said last week that it is searching for 79 missing children, 65 of whom are categorized as runaways.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who will replace Gov. Sam Brownback if Brownback takes over as ambassador for international religious freedom, chose Meier-Hummel for the DCF role after Gilmore announced she would retire Dec. 1. In speaking with the legislative task force last week, Meier-Hummel said DCF would be much more proactive in locating missing foster children.
“One child away from place is one too many,” Meier-Hummel said. “I want you to be assured that we have staff right now, really great staff, attending to this need.”
Meier-Hummel brings a refreshing and needed attitude to DCF, which should be a champion for the state’s most vulnerable children. Here’s hoping she can bring change to an agency that desperately needs it.