Kansas child welfare agency rescinds rule banning opposition

The Kansas Department for Children and Families plans to remove a new rule banning contractors from opposing the agency after questions about whether the change would stifle policy debate and contradict promises of transparency.

The removal came after the agency announced new child welfare contracts Thursday that raised free-speech concerns. The contracts require prior approval for any public statements identifying the agency. Private contractors also must “conspicuously acknowledge support of DCF” in any announcement about the contract, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The contracts emphasize greater collaboration but prohibit people working within the system from testifying before lawmakers, said Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, which represents child welfare agencies.

“We need to be able to have differing opinions and the opportunity to talk about those differences,” she said.

The lobbying restriction was meant to foster good public-private partnerships, said Taylor Forrest, agency spokeswoman.

“After review, we will be removing the last sentence in the lobbying clause,” Forrest said. “Together with our providers, we must work to communicate and promote the mission of the agency — to protect children, promote healthy families and encourage personal responsibility.”

A section requiring prior agency approval for public statements will stay in the contracts. Attorney Max Kautsch said that controlling a private contractor’s message creates a First Amendment issue because it appears to require agency support in any public message.

Forrest said the publicity clause “simply advises our contractors and grantees that they are not authorized to make a statement on behalf of our agency.”


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