Kansas child welfare agency described as overly secretive

? The state agency in Kansas charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect instead works to hide how it operates to protect its reputation, legislators, former employees and family members say.

The Kansas City Star reports that a former state Department for Children and Families supervisor says she was told to shred notes form meetings and not document anything after a child’s death. Legislators in both parties said they do not believe they’re getting complete information from the agency.

And the father of a 10-year-old boy who was murdered in his ex-wife’s custody in south-central Kansas said a state social worker tried to get him to sign an agreement not to talk about the case publicly in December 2014, only days after the boy’s death.

The department has faced increased scrutiny because of five high-profile deaths of young children in five years and a scathing state audit last year that said Kansas’ foster care system put vulnerable children at risk.

“Secrecy is killing children,” said Dianne Keech, a former DCF deputy director for two years who worked as a court services officer in Wyandotte County assessing child-in-need-of-care cases.

Department Secretary Phyllis Gilmore has announced she plans to retire Dec. 1, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has praised her for a “single-minded focus on helping build strong families.” The department told The Star in a statement that it “is committed to transparency.”

But Keech said in 2014 she was told by a member of the department’s legal team to shred notes taken in meetings where a child death or injury was discussed. She said after one meeting in the summer of 2015 about a child death, an agency attorney put notes in a shredder.

While the department did not specifically address Keech’s allegations, it said, “We strongly disagree with any assertion by anyone that DCF is stonewalling and misleading.”

But Clint Blansett said he still doesn’t know nearly three years after his 10-year-old son, Caleb, was killed in Wellington how thoroughly the department investigated his or others’ concerns about his ex-wife. She is now serving a life sentence in connection with the boy’s death.

Blansett said he still can’t believe that even before a memorial service for his son in December 2014, a state social worker pushed him to sign an agreement imposing a “gag order” on himself. He said that after he refused, the social worker obtained a court order.

The department last week rejected a request from The Star for documents related to the case filed in August, saying it “does not have the staffing resources.”