Kansas governor-elect replaces DCF secretary, orders halt on some grants

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- The head of the Department for Children and Families is out after just 14 months on the job.

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel started in November 2017, appointed by Gov. Jeff Colyer. On Thursday, Governor-elect Laura Kelly announced Meier-Hummel will be replaced by Laura Howard, who currently leads KU's Public Management Center.

After less than a week on the job, Meier-Hummel watched FOX4's investigation into systematic failures at DCF that allowed for the continued torture and death of 7-year-old Adrian Jones.

"If it's true, it's horrible," Meier-Hummel said with tears in her eyes.

She immediately ordered a top-down review of the agency. A task force was convened to see why families weren't getting the support they needed and how foster care children could simply disappear from the system.

"I wouldn't say she did not help improve the system, but I would say DCF did not become dramatically more transparent. It remained relatively defensive during her tenure there," said Lori Ross, president and CEO of FosterAdopt Connect.

In announcing Meier-Hummel's replacement, Kelly said, "We've seen the agency dismantled by ideology and mismanagement."

She added "accurate and forthright information from current DCF leadership was hard to come by."

Kelly also ordered DCF to delay implementation of the new foster care and family preservation grant programs.

It was a change made under Meier-Hummel, eliminating bids by contractors to oversee the foster care system. Contracts needed independent review. But with grants, Ross, who served on a task force subcommittee, said DCF had total control over who the department worked with.

"I think there was an outcry from that issue, not just from myself, but from lots of people who said, 'Wait a minute, what's going on here?'" Ross said.

Kelly said Howard will review whether the grants are legal and in the best interest of Kansas children and families.

In a statement released Thursday, Meier-Hummel said the grants "are in the absolute best interest of Kansas children and families. With that being said DCF has been fully transparent."

The outgoing secretary said the department made necessary changes and improvements during her year at the helm.

Ross hopes the new interim secretary takes the task force's work to heart.

"There are amazing solutions out there. You don't have to look very hard. There are more people than you can possibly imagine that are willing to step up and walk with you into a brighter future for Kansas kids and families," she said.

Howard previously served as deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, a precursor to DCF.

Accepting the job she said, "We have a long challenging road ahead of us."

Howard will have a full plate. She will also serve as interim secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services. She starts both jobs Jan. 14.

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