Gov. Laura Kelly brought together former members of the state's child welfare task force Monday to point out steps taken to improve services to vulnerable children and to reaffirm a commitment to the longer struggle to build a foundation for families.
The 2019 Legislature approved funding to hire 42 new social workers to work with children and their families. In part, the appropriation reflected publicity about the death of children in foster care, as well as persistent problems with losing track of dozens of children placed with foster parents.
"One of the things we heard over and over again was the fact that we were dealing with a depleted workforce," she said. "We've got to have adequate staffing."
In addition, lawmakers appropriated $6.5 million to match an equal amount of federal aid for a family preservation program. The Kansas Department for Children and Families received 60 proposals from 32 different agencies for use of those new grants, she said.
"That's significant. There are a lot of folks out there who are very interested in partnering with us," the Democratic governor said.
Meanwhile, Kelly said a broad coalition of organizations and people was committed to figuring out how best to serve children who entered the legal system and needed a community support network to thrive.
House and Senate legislative leaders blocked many of the task force's two dozen recommendations, but Kelly said that template would be used during her four-year term to implement proposals by legislative action, executive order or by Cabinet agency directive. Neither did the Legislature decide to continue the task force, which met for two years to evaluate the state system of support for children.
"It was really critical to bring this group back together, both to share progress but to get further input," said Laura Howard, secretary at DCF and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. "This really was going to be a marathon. The system has so many challenges and we can't fix everything overnight."
Task force members discussed workforce issues, prevention activities, access to care and the system's ability to share information on children in need.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, stepped in to chair the meeting because three other legislators who were on the task force didn't attend.
Bollier said pressure to sustain reform of child welfare programs in Kansas was necessary because task force reports too easily could be ignored by politicians.
"These are some of our most vulnerable children," she said. "We need to know how things are improving."