Your Turn: DCF secretary elaborates on task force goals

As the Kansas Child Welfare System Task Force is about to begin its important work of examining in a holistic way the entire child welfare system, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the role of the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) on the task force and some of the work we look forward to accomplishing with other child welfare experts, lawmakers and stakeholders.

According to the Child Federal Services Review, conducted by the federal government, Kansas has one of the safest child welfare systems in the country. But that designation still leaves room for improvement. And as an agency, we are constantly striving to identify innovative and tested successful strategies to improve the well-being of children in our state. Our interest is particularly for those who cannot protect themselves from the abuse and neglect they suffer at the hands of their caregivers or others. With the help of the task force, we expect to gather effective strategies to further the agency’s mission of protecting children, promoting healthy families and encouraging personal responsibility.

DCF has on the task force nonvoting members, including our Prevention and Protection Services director and myself. Our role is to supply the members with the information and tools they need to generate meaningful and workable solutions to complex child welfare issues, such as privatization, family preservation services, reintegration services and the level of access to necessary physical and mental health services in the community. These are not easily addressed issues. But we are confident that important discussions will take place that may drive improvements.

Please know that although we anticipate successful outcomes from the task force’s work, DCF is not relying solely on the group’s efforts to make meaningful changes to the child welfare system. In fact, long before this task force was ever considered, the agency was already hard at work to improve accountability, transparency and safety in the child welfare system.

Improvements include a new comprehensive training program for child welfare workers. It’s designed to prepare them for the many obstacles they will face as they diligently work to keep children safe. As DCF acquired the foster care licensing program in 2015, vast improvements were made and are in progress to ensure licensing requirements are adhered to and foster families are able to provide a safe and appropriate temporary home for children in their care. Other important improvements include the use of background checks, in-person visits, home inspections safety assessments and the discontinuance of temporary permits. We are also improving social worker morale, by offering these trained professionals a long-overdue salary increase. Their competitive wages, added safety training and technology and more aid in the recruitment and retention of these valued staff members who undertake emotionally and physically exhaustive work that most of us could not comprehend.

As a licensed social worker, I am proud to lead this agency of concerned professionals who strive to keep children and other vulnerable Kansans safe. They deserve our respect, support and admiration.

It is my goal to work alongside the task force, not to criticize and demoralize DCF staff, but to build them up and equip them with the tools they need to improve what is an already-impressive child welfare system. We can be confident that through our collective efforts to serve the well-being of Kansas children, we will accomplish great things with this new Child Welfare System Task Force.

— Phyllis Gilmore is the secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.