DCF introduces legislation to increase transparency in child’s death

TOPEKA (CAPITOL BUREAU) — The Department for Children and Families introduced a new legislation to increase transparency in a child’s death.

House Bill 2728 adds language to K.S.A 38-2212 (Child in Need of Care code). If a child dies as the result of abuse or neglect the secretary of DCF would release the following information upon request; the age and sex of the child, the date of the death, a summary related to the department’s processes of any previous reports of abuse or neglect, and any department-recommended services provided for the child.

“I think we’re trying to balance sharing more information while at the same time protecting the privacy of those involved,” explained DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel.

This past September in Wichita, the body of three year-old Evan Brewer was found encased in concrete. According to court recorders, DCF had been called to the home Brewer was staying at multiple times. Meier-Hummel said while she can’t talk specifics about the case, this bill would’ve allowed DCF to released more information when requested.

“We didn’t get a chance to tell a lot of what was going on, and what our involvement was, or what we tired to do,” explained Meier-Hummel.

The bill is in front of the House Judiciary Committee, a hearing on the bill has not been scheduled. Wichita Democrat John Carmichael sits on the committee.

“People need to know when children in the custody of the state die,” he said.

Carmichael added the bills shows the department is working to regain the public’s trust.

“The new secretary does want to open up the agency and provide transparency and this bill is a step in that direction,” said Carmichael.

Meier-Hummel said while the bill won’t change the past, it can help shape the future.

“I know we have a lot of work to do.”

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said the legislation shows the agency is taking steps towards improvement.

According to a news release from the Governor’s office, Under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), states must generally preserve confidentiality of child abuse and neglect records and not allow disclosure to the public, as one requirement to receiving federal funding. The disclosure of the information proposed in HB 2728 is allowed under CAPTA, as it applies only in instances of a child fatality resulting from abuse or neglect.

“We have seen far too many children killed at the hands of their caregivers, acts that can be described as nothing short of evil,” Governor Colyer said. “The public often asks how something like this can happen, and although this legislation may not fully answer that, it will help Kansans learn about steps that may or may not have been taken to save a child’s life. This bill is another important step in increasing transparency and public trust in state government.”

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