Views from Kansas: Kelly takes steps to help kids

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

This is why voters elected incoming Gov. Laura Kelly: because we need to do so much better for Kansas children, because we badly need transparency in state government and because there is zero time to waste in recovering all that was lost under Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer.

So good for her for marching so briskly into 2019. Last week, Kelly announced that she will replace Gina Meier-Hummel as head of the state’s child welfare system. The Kansas Department for Children and Families was on what seemed like permanent crisis footing long before Meier-Hummel got there in fall of 2017. But it has remained troubled under her sometimes questionable leadership, and a change was in order.

Meier-Hummel had a difficult job and did make some improvements, which began with a top-to-bottom audit.

But she talked about transparency and didn’t show enough of it. She decided to hire inexperienced and unlicensed social workers to fill jobs investigating reports of abuse and neglect. And she replaced contracts for foster care, family preservation and other services with grants that got around rules on no-bid arrangements.

Kelly asked the Colyer administration that she’ll soon supplant — in 11 days, her announcement noted, and we’re glad she’s counting — not to implement those grants at this point. Meier-Hummel immediately said she’d honor that request.

The governor-elect also said outright that the state’s procurement process wasn’t followed and that agency officials had tried to keep her from learning more about how the grantees were chosen.

We wanted Kelly to clean house and name names, for the sake of the state’s struggling families, and she’s already doing that.

As The Star has reported, the agency gave a major grant to a Florida nonprofit already facing heavy criticism for its foster care. An agency spokeswoman argued that they’d been hired to provide family preservation services, not foster care, but it’s still the same nonprofit group.

Meier-Hummel will be succeeded on an interim basis by Laura Howard, who for now will head both the DCF and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. A former regional administrator in a federal agency overseeing substance abuse and mental health services, Howard is currently director of the Public Management Center in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas.

Meier-Hummel responded to Kelly’s no-nonsense announcement with a news release of her own. It listed her achievements, including starting a new Wichita abuse and neglect reporting line, “changing key policies and procedures and implementing further mandated training” and reducing the number of missing and runaway kids by just over a quarter. The suspended grants are in the “absolute best interest” of Kansas children and families, the DCF’s announcement said.

That’s a matter of opinion, but ours is that Kelly has done the right thing and is off to a promising start even before being sworn in as governor.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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