AP NEWS

Welfare oversight plan dropped at end of legislative session

May 8, 2019

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lawmakers dropped a plan to increase oversight of Kansas’ troubled child welfare system in the final hours of their annual session, angering advocates.

The provision that was eliminated would have created a committee that could have summoned officials to explain problems, drafted legislation and provided frustrated parents with a place to vent, The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star reported.

Some advocates saw the panel as a way to address a system beset with problems that include child deaths and problems recruiting and retaining staff.

“I don’t think our legislators understand how hard it is to apologize to a child for ‘good intentions’ gone bad,” said Tara Wallace, president of the African American Foster Care/Adoption Coalition’s Topeka chapter. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but I have to for the sake of helping them get through their traumatic experiences.”

The committee would have been required to review data on child maltreatment, child welfare programs and concerns about the Department for Children and Families, which oversees foster care. Lawmakers focused on health and child-related issues would have been assigned to serve on it.

Issues arose when a coalition of Republicans and Democrats blocked the legislation to try to pressure Republican leaders in the Senate to hold a vote on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers sent the budget back for more negotiations between the House and the Senate. Negotiators produced a new version that didn’t include the committee.

The Legislature then passed the budget Saturday night after pro-expansion Republicans stopped voting to block it.

“I think it’s clear for the legislative leadership that foster care is not a priority,” said Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center serving vulnerable and excluded Kansans.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who chairs the House Children and Seniors Committee, noted that lawmakers can still act next year on her bill to create a child welfare oversight committee.

“It needs oversight. We need to get this bill passed,” Concannon said.