Guest Commentary

Wink Hartman: Kansas children shouldn’t be pieces on a bureaucratic chess board

Wink Hartman, CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita.
Wink Hartman, CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita. Courtesy photo

Gov. Laura Kelly’s decision to merge the Department of Children and Families into a new, larger bureaucracy is nothing more than the government equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, at the expense of Kansas’ most vulnerable.

The issues facing Kansas’ child welfare system are massive. These issues need dedicated leadership from a cabinet level official. They should not be placed into a larger agency that will encompass the entire scope of human services, and allow for less accountability. Rather than addressing the management issues facing DCF, Governor Kelly has chosen to participate in a rebranding exercise in the hopes of a “one-stop shop.”

Governor, our vulnerable children need dedicated leadership and accountability, not the chance to wait to take a number to talk to someone at the “one-stop human services shop.”

We have seen too many reports of the failures of child welfare in our state. Lost children in foster care, children sleeping in offices, rising caseloads that are leading to burnout among social workers. These issues need dedicated leadership and management that will make the tough decisions and be accountable. Our Legislature is taking steps to address the child welfare crisis. Sadly, the Governor and her administration could not even consult lawmakers about this ill-advised plan, and even announced it days before legislators return to Topeka.

DCF should be a stand-alone agency. By being a stand-alone agency, the secretary and top leadership will be focused on one issue and one issue only, cleaning up our child welfare system. An independent DCF will provide more accountability, with the public and the Legislature being able to see the massive problems in child welfare and address them, not worry that they are hidden in the maze of a massive bureaucracy. If we are to ever truly help our most vulnerable children, we need to make sure there is accountability and sunshine.

Other states and cities that have had issues with child welfare have created stand-alone children’s agencies, in order to prevent the issues from being lost in the bureaucracy. These bipartisan leaders knew that our children need help and that we need to make sure that foster care is the pathway to a better life.

A new human services bureaucracy does not address the rising caseloads for social workers and the burnout for social workers statewide. In fact, a larger agency could even increase caseloads and burnout if we now have social workers addressing issues across the “one-stop shop.”

Children’s issues are personal for me. My father was in the Wichita Children’s Home as a child. He was lucky; he grew up to lead a full and productive life. Every child in Kansas foster care deserves the same chance he had.

Whitney Houston once sang that the “children are our future” and that we should “give them a sense of pride to make it easier.” This is the spirit that should be guiding us. Our children are our future, and they deserve better than to be treated as pieces on a bureaucratic chess board.

Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

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