The statewide tour, which started in April 2018 and spanned approximately 5,278 miles, allowed Secretary Meier-Hummel and her leadership team to visit each of the four DCF Region’s and meet almost all 2,200 DCF staff. During these visits, Secretary Meier-Hummel also met with judges, law enforcement, legislators, foster parents, mental health professionals, providers and other community partners to provide an update about the recent changes at the agency and to listen to their concerns and feedback.
“The agency has been moving quickly to make necessary changes, particularly in child welfare. But I knew that to truly strengthen the system, I would need to get out into the communities to really gauge what is working and what isn’t working,” Secretary Meier-Hummel said. “Across the state, we have had candid conversations with child welfare stakeholders and have gained vital insight about the challenges facing local communities and families. We have heard them, and we are working diligently and swiftly to make improvements to address these issues.”
During these visits, several key issues were identified—a need for a streamlined adoption process, more prevention services in rural communities, transportation to services in local communities and additional child welfare positions.
Secretary Meier-Hummel and her staff have been working diligently on many fronts to address the issues identified at these meetings. After hearing concerns about the adoption process, DCF was able to identify and remove policies that were acting as a barrier to timely permanency for Kansas youth. Additionally, to address a lack of local services in communities, DCF is in the process of awarding a new Family Preservation Grant, effective July 1, 2019, to offer more in-home services to families. The implementation of Family First, federal legislation that reforms federal child welfare financing streams to provide preventative services to at-risk families, will also help remedy the lack of services in communities.
While the agency heard about things that needed improvement in the child welfare system, DCF also heard about things that are working. Statewide, child welfare vacancies are decreasing. In Wichita, as a result of Secretary Meier-Hummel changing the qualifications for investigative staff, they were able to fill every child protection specialist vacancy. Additionally, the Garden City Service Center Prevention and Protection Specialist (PPS) unit is fully staffed for the first time in approximately eight years. Despite the vacancies dropping across the state, Secretary Meier-Hummel knows that high caseloads are still an issue, especially in the metropolitan areas of the state. Moving forward, she will continue to advocate for an adequate workforce and more positions to help alleviate high caseloads and improve child safety.
“I'm grateful to Secretary Meier-Hummel for the time and effort she put forth in this statewide effort to gain a more thorough understanding of what is going on in our agencies. While there are still areas that we know need improvement, I am confident that she has the dedication and commitment to see that every effort is made to improve systems and processes at DCF that are in the best interest of the children and families of Kansas,” Governor Jeff Colyer said.
In addition to this regional tour, Secretary Meier-Hummel has worked diligently to listen to all voices in the child welfare system, and has also met with biological families, youth in foster care and youth who have aged out of the system. Over the next few months, Secretary Meier-Hummel will continue to travel across the state to meet with foster parents and other community partners.
“Listening to staff and stakeholders at each DCF office has shown me we have made progress and our changes are working, but there is still much work to be done,” Secretary Meier-Hummel said. “But above all else, the thing that I saw as I visited each DCF office was a steady, constant commitment to serving Kansas families. Whether it was an Economic and Employment Services (EES) or Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) staff member talking about working to help an individual gain meaningful employment and become self-reliant, a PPS staff member talking about ensuring the safety of Kansas children or a Child Support Services (CSS) staff member discussing parental engagement, it was clear to me that our staff are dedicated, public servants who have a desire to support, empower and provide for Kansans. Together, we will continue to listen, serve and lead the way to a brighter, safer Kansas.”
To learn more about the location of the DCF service centers, or to learn more about the changes being made at the agency, visit www.dcf.ks.gov