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  • Writer's pictureRachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Kansas DCF secretary wants to discuss child death cases earlier. A new bill would clear the way.


Releasing information when someone has been criminally charged would allow for more public transparency, DCF secretary Laura Howard said during a Monday committee hearing. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)


By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — The head of the Kansas child welfare system is renewing her call for public transparency months after a homeless Topeka 5-year-old girl died of sexual assault.

Kansas law requires DCF to complete its investigation and make a finding of abuse or neglect before any case information may be released to the public. That process can drag on as officials try to determine the cause of death.


Kansas Department for Children and Families secretary Laura Howard wants a change, asking for a law amendment that would require DCF to publicly release certain information on a child fatality once criminal charges are filed.


“Transparency has been a top priority to me,” Howard told lawmakers on a child welfare committee Monday. “I think transparency and accountability, I think they’re essential always in government, but I think they’re especially essential to the work that goes on in the child welfare system. Government functions better when it’s out in the open and can be held accountable by the public.”


Howard said the change would allow DCF to be able to release information sooner in some cases.


Currently, information can be accessed via Kansas Open Records Act requests following the conclusion of the agency’s investigation. Within seven business days of a KORA request, DCF is required to provide records on the age and sex of the child, date of the fatality and a summary of child welfare reports, as well as department-recommended services provided.


Due to differences in investigation time, law enforcement often releases information earlier than DCF.  In the case of Zoey Felix, the Topeka 5-year-old, lawmakers and concerned members of the public pressed Howard for answers. A man was charged with rape and capital murder before DCF could release information.


Howard said the disparity in release times generated confusion from the public. She has advocated for the change previously, coming to the Legislature in 2021 following the death of a Kansas City, Kansas, 3-year-old. 


“Child fatalities are serious, serious incidents that we all must grapple with,” Howard said. “Communities grapple with the impact of that. And I think it’s important that there be access to appropriate information, really as a matter of public trust.” 


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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