One woman will be stepping in as the interim secretary of both the Department for Children and Families and the Department for Aging and Disability Services.
Governor-elect Laura Kelly’s team announced Thursday that Laura Howard, currently the director of the University of Kansas Public Management Center in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, will step into the roles. Howard has a law degree from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s in public administration from Miami University.
“Laura Howard is the perfect expert to lead DCF and KDADS at this challenging time,” said Kelly. “She has a long history of building coalitions to better deliver services to vulnerable Kansans. Throughout her career, she’s developed a reputation as an expert in state funded services and collaboration between agencies and organizations.”
Kelly’s team wrote that the appointment of Howard is a first step in reforming the DCF, which they referred to as “plagued by mismanagement.”
“This is a challenging time for the Department for Children and Families,” said Kelly. “We’ve seen the agency dismantled by ideology and mismanagement. We need a leader to get to work on day one to ensure our most vulnerable Kansans are safe. I know Laura Howard will bring the remaining dedicated staff together with our new team to fix the problems in a transparent way.”
Howard, who has also worked with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and is former regional administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said she’s been impressed by Kelly’s efforts to hold the DCF accountable.
“I am pleased to be a part of this team dedicated to rebuilding our state agencies. We have a long, challenging road ahead of us,” said Howard. “But both the governor-elect and I are committed to working hard within the agency, as well as with advocates and stakeholders, to improve the child welfare system and ensure our children are safe.”
Howard succeeds Gina Meier-Hummel, who was appointed to lead the DCF on Nov. 22, 2017. Meier-Hummel wished Howard success in her own statement, saying she’ll be available to help Howard through the transition.
“From the moment Governor-Elect Kelly was integral in my unanimous confirmation as Secretary, I have enjoyed an honest and candid relationship with her,” said Meier-Hummel. “I wish her and her administration the best.”
Kelly also requested that Meier-Hummel and current DCF leadership hold off on implementing the new foster care and family preservation grant programs. The Kelly team wrote that “these so-called ‘grants’ are essentially no-bid contracts that did not follow the state’s official procurement process” and that the interim secretary and Kelly will review the legality of the program.
“The process in which these grantees were evaluated and selected has not been transparent,” said Kelly. “Despite our best efforts during the transition, accurate and forthright information from current DCF leadership was hard to come by. In the coming months, our team will work to evaluate the current programs and contracts to determine the best path forward for our children and families.”
In a response, Meier-Hummel said that DCF has been transparent with the Child Welfare System Task Force about the program and that it was created with input from the public and child welfare stakeholders.
“The bid review process was extensive and robust. Two internal DCF teams, consisting of DCF staff from across the state, analyzed and blind-scored each bid submission offsite for three days,” said Meier-Hummel. “These new grants are necessary to improve child welfare in Kansas and are in the absolute best interest for Kansas children and families.”
Meier-Hummel went on to say she would honor Kelly’s request to hold the grants and called all providers to express the new administration’s position. Kelly’s staff have contacted all grant recipients to request they hold off spending any state money for the time being as well.