The most vulnerable children in Kansas who needed safe homes, psychiatric treatment and other protective services didn’t get the treatments they needed because DCF withheld payments for services to the agencies contracted to deliver care.
Actions by DCF leadership, outlined in Sunday’s Topeka Capital-Journal, revealed just how close the Brownback/Colyer administrations came to pushing the state’s two child welfare providers to surrender their contracts, which would have left Kansas with no service providers.
Nondisclosure agreements prevented Saint Francis Ministries and KVC Kansas from communicating to the public that Phyllis Gilmore and Gina Meier-Hummel, DCF secretaries under former Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer respectively, were withholding payments, severely straining their ability to provide services for an increasing number of children in their care.
As the Kansas Legislature considers appropriate uses of power within the government, perhaps it should spend time discussing the role of state-imposed nondisclosure agreements between state agencies and their contractors. This practice must be stopped.
In the final years of Brownback’s tenure, legislators peppered DCF leadership and those from KVC and Saint Francis about the growing number of children needing services and the failure to deliver care, leading to multiple deaths of young children. What they didn’t know, and were prevented from learning because of the nondisclosure agreements and fear of retaliation, is that Saint Francis and KVC were being choked out.
“There were millions of dollars in foster care case management expenses that were not reimbursed, and other payments were significantly delayed,” Jenny Kutz, of KVC Kansas told The Capital-Journal.
Gilmore retired in December 2017 and leaves us the legacy of slashing welfare programs that led to more children being placed in state custody. Meier-Hummel was touted as having the skills to aid the troubled agency, yet she signed off on agreements that would continue to shortchange the contractors in the months ahead. Now she denies remembering any of the details.
KVC Kansas President Linda Bass warned that during the last decade, “Funding for community supports and mental health were cut dramatically, leading to a 50% increase in the number of children in foster care. In less than one decade, we went from one of the country’s best child welfare systems to one of the most stressed.”
It appears Gov. Kelly has delivered on her campaign promise to take politics out of agency leadership and hire competent people who know how to do the work. We commend DCF Secretary Laura Howard for the progress she’s making to rebuild the child welfare system.
As we enter precarious financial times brought on by the pandemic, we cannot look to DCF as a place to cut resources. The failure to take care of our vulnerable children will reverberate for generations. We can do better.