BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — Kansas’ child welfare agency balked at releasing records about a 3-year-old girl whose battered body was found this month, despite a 2018 law that aimed to make such documents more transparent.
That law says Kansas Department for Children and Families’ documents are public records in the event child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality or near fatality. However, the agency declined to release to The Associated Press records pertaining to Olivia Ann Jansen, saying it is still investigating whether Olivia’s death was a result of abuse or neglect. Prosecutors have charged Olivia’s father and his girlfriend with murder.
“Much to my dismay DCF continues to handle protective services as a confidential undertaking and it shouldn’t be,” said state Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “The safety of our children is something all Kansans are entitled to know details and, if there has been malfeasance on the DCF, people need to know that.”
Olivia’s remains were found in a shallow grave on July 10, after her father, Howard Jansen III, 29, reported the Kansas City, Kansas, girl missing. According to a probable cause affidavit, Olivia’s body was covered with bruises and she died of a brain bleed.
The girl’s grandparents said they had raised concerns about her safety with child protective services. The AP filed a request with the Department of Children and Families on July 13 seeking copies of any records concerning reports of alleged abuse or neglect about the girl.
The agency told the AP in a July 27 email that the records are not open to the public because it has not completed its investigation of whether Olivia died as a result of child abuse or neglect.
Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, called the refusal to release the records based on the agency’s own ongoing investigation “a shameful attempt to dodge public scrutiny.”
“Clearly, law enforcement, the district attorney, and a judge who signed the warrant in the court case have made a determination of child abuse,” Keefover said.
Department spokesman Mike Deines said in an email Monday that the agency is working with law enforcement to investigate. Deines said the Wyandotte County district attorney’s office just recently released redacted affidavits that the child welfare agency will use to complete its investigation and “render a finding in the very near future.”
If the agency makes a finding substantiating that Olivia’s death was the result of child abuse or neglect, the agency will release a summary and begin the process for the records release, he said.
“The intent (of the law) was to as quick as reasonably possible release that information so that we could do our best as a state to try to put in place procedures to prevent future cases of abuse and neglect,” said state Rep. Fred Patton, of Topeka, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Carmichael, who also serves on the judiciary committee, said it appears the agency is “stonewalling once again” and lawmakers can try next year to impose more strict legislation. The Legislature had passed the open records law after several high-profile deaths of children.
“It sounds like now we have a new bag of tricks and that even though law enforcement has brought charges the agency claims it has not completed its investigation,” Carmichael said.
“We thought we had solved the problem, but obviously we haven’t,” he said.