Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel was hired in early December to assume leadership of the beleaguered Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF).
The department has come under scrutiny in the last year after a July 2016 state audit of the foster care system highlighted areas of concern, including lack of adequate oversight of contractors providing foster care services. As the state’s bipartisan Child Welfare System Task Force explored the findings of the audit, other areas of concern came to light throughout 2017.
Some of those concerns included questions about the number of children missing in the state’s foster care system and “children stayed overnight in contractors’ offices more than 100 times over the past year because places able or willing to accept them couldn’t be found,” according to an article from The Kansas City Star.
The state’s current foster care contractors include KVC Health Systems, which oversees eastern counties and includes Kansas City, and St. Francis Community Services, which oversees the western half of the state.
The former secretary of DCF, Phyllis Gilmore, retired Dec. 1, after receiving sharp criticism by the task force. Meier-Hummel is tasked with addressing the issues brought to light in the state audit, as well as concern about a number of missing children involved in DCF cases. Seventy-nine DCF-involved children are currently missing, according to DCF officials, 65 are listed as runaways.
“I absolutely believe you have to reflect on what happened in the past to make sure that we don’t repeat things,” Meier-Hummel said in an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal. “The safety net is more than just one policy or program.”
According to the Capital-Journal, Meier-Hummel has already met with the legislative task force investigating the issues plaguing the state’s foster care system.
“One child away from placement is one too many,” Meier-Hummel told the Capital-Journal. “I want you to be assured that we have staff right now, really great staff, attending to this need.”
Prior to assuming the position as head of Kansas DCF, Meier-Hummel served as the executive director of the Children’s Shelter in Lawrence, which is a social service agency that is a long-term residential care facility that also provides emergency shelter for youth ages 10 to 18. She’s served in that position since 2015 and has held a number of positions within the Kansas DCF and the Department for Aging and Disability Services (ADS).
Children’s Alliance of Kansas Executive Director Christie Appelhanz said Meier-Hummel has a hefty task ahead of her as the works to change the course of the agency.
“Many Kansans have lost faith the agency is looking out for the best interest of kids,” Appelhanz said in an email to The Chronicle. “Secretary Meier-Hummel is the right leader at the right time for Kansas kids and families. The first thing she said to me after being named secretary was ‘let’s get some things done.’ That’s been Secretary Meier-Hummel’s approach her entire career — from her previous time in state government to working at private child-serving agencies. She gets things done.”