Kansas House unanimously passes bill to release information after Child Abuse deaths
In a final vote Thursday morning, the Kansas House unanimously passed legislation that would require the state to release information after a child dies of abuse or neglect.
The chamber voted 124-0 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers will decide whether to accept the House version. If they don’t, the bill would be sent to a conference committee to work out any differences. After that, each chamber would vote again.
Child advocates say if the bill becomes law, the most vulnerable children in Kansas will be better protected.
“Absolutely it’s a step forward,” said Lori Ross, a long-time advocate in Missouri. “Transparency is necessary for the child welfare system to continuously improve. … I’m so thrilled they haven’t dropped this.”
The House action comes after several high-profile deaths in the recent years. Frustrated lawmakers, as well as child advocates across the state, have said more must be known about these cases so the system improves and other children are protected.
The Star has fought for years to obtain records and information after several horrific child deaths, including the 2015 death of Adrian Jones, a Kansas City, KS boy whose body was fed to pigs.
In a months-long investigation into the secrecy that permeates Kansas government, The Star found in late November a pervasive effort inside DCF to avoid transparency, hiding behind privacy laws and internal procedures — even instructing employees to shred notes taken in meetings where the death of a child was discussed.
Under the bill, SB 336, DCF would be required to release within seven business days the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality, a summary of previous reports to the agency and findings, as well as any department-recommended services provided.
Also, if a child dies while in state custody, the bill requires the DCF secretary to release the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality and summary of the facts surrounding the death. This section relates directly to children who die in foster care and the death is considered an accident.
Since Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel took over the troubled agency in early December, she has vowed to be more transparent. She worked with lawmakers on the bill and she and Gov. Jeff Colyer have been pushing for its passage.
As the bill went through the committee process there were heated moments as troubles with the child welfare system were discussed. Lawmakers said this week that Meier-Hummel is providing the leadership that the state currently needs.
After Rep. John Carmichael commended the Judiciary Committee in a Wednesday hearing for its work with the legislation, he turned his attention to discussing Meier-Hummel.
“I also want to express to the current secretary of DCF my admiration for her first bringing the bill,” the Wichita Democrat said. “And second, for responding frankly and candidly to sometimes difficult questions in the Judiciary Committee.”