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Wichita child tragedies were a factor in official’s removal

March 2, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Recent tragedies involving children who reportedly had been abused was one of several factors in the decision to oust the agency’s top official in Wichita, the department’s new leader said.

Gina Meier-Hummel, director of the Department of Children and Families, told agency workers in Wichita that she shared their concern “about recent tragedies involving children in your community, and understand on a very personal level the scrutiny the agency is under.”

She made the comment in a letter to employees on Tuesday to announce the departure of Wichita regional director Bill Gale.

Two child-related cases involving Wichita children drew widespread attention and criticism recently. The agency received several reports that 3-year-old Evan Brewer was abused before his body was found encased in concrete at a Wichita home last year. And law enforcement agencies continue to search for 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez, who’s been missing for nearly two weeks. His relatives say they had reported concerns that he was being abused to the department.

Meier-Hummel told the Eagle Thursday that Gale’s removal “was the result of having reviewed a number of situations and after having multiple discussions with staff and stakeholders,” but she didn’t mention any specific cases.

Gale’s ouster is part of Meier-Hummel’s efforts to revamp the agency she took over in December after years of controversy and criticism from lawmakers, child advocates and the public.

“If we need to replace people, we’re replacing people,” Gov. Jeff Colyer said Thursday.

However, State Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Wichita, said he never heard complaints about Gale’s leadership and suggested he was being made a scapegoat for the agency’s problems.

Meier-Hummel said Thursday several policy changes will be announced soon but she didn’t elaborate. Some changes, such as legislation to require the release of more information when a child dies, have already been announced.

The department also is asking the Legislature for a $16.5 million increase over two years for child welfare services. The money would fund 20 additional staff, eliminate the need for children waiting for foster care to sometimes sleep in offices, and pay for resources to help find children who have gone missing from foster care.

A House committee is considering the funding requests.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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