Kansas panel slams DCF over handling of foster children

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Members of the Kansas Child Welfare Task Force met in Topeka on Tuesday, asking hard-hitting questions of how to improve the court's response to protecting abused and neglected children. 

The state Department for Children and Families is already under fire for not being aware of more than 70 missing foster children. Now it faces more backlash after the Kansas City Star reported that a former DCF employee was asked to shred notes from meetings and not document anything after a child's death.

Sen. Laura Kelly (D) asked DCF to explain, but those representing the agency had no comment. 

"We've had concerns about the lack of transparency in that agency for years," Sen. Kelley said. "I just wanted them to have the opportunity for them to go on record, and they reiterated what the Kansas City Star wrote is that there is no transparency."

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Noticeably absent from Tuesday's meeting was the DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore who is retiring next month. Some say it comes as no surprise that she was a no-show. 

"Her not being here did not surprise me. I mean, she is on the way out the door," Kelley said. "I would expect, in some ways, there's no reason for her to be here...but somebody in that agency should have been willing to respond to the questions."

Deputy Secretary David Kurt sat in Gilmore's place. A number of other representatives for DCF took to the podium to answer questions from the task force. But many in the room pointed out that DCF seemed to be unprepared to tackle some of the questions. 

Sen. Kelley, at one point, asked why the representatives were at the meeting if they didn't have or didn't know the answers. 

"Clearly, we all know what the intent of this task force is. And for the agency to bring data that they can't back up because they don't have the people who know the answers is a bit absurd. People who should be here, not being here, when this meeting is scheduled way in advance is disrespectful."

While questions linger, those at the meeting said it's evident that changes need to be made to protect children. 

"We should never stop examining what we do and try to do it better," said Wyandotte County District Court Judge Dan Cahill. "This task force is a mechanism for that."

The DCF released the following statement in response to the allegations that a former DCF employee was told to shred meeting notes and not document anything after a child's death:

During Ms. Keeche's time with the department, she claims the agency's attorney directed staff to keep information from the public's reach by shredding all notes. This is not an accurate statement. Ms. Keeche is likely referring to direction given to staff that they should not include personal notes in case files for incident review. A personal note for example, would be thoughts or opinions that are not relevant to the case itself. This is not an effort to keep information from the public, but rather an effort to ensure the file only contains facts/observations pertinent to the case.
 
Taylor Forrest
Public Information Officer
Kansas Department for Children and Families

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