DCF Secretary retiring at end of the month

Dept. of Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore (WIBW)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW/AP) — The head of the Dept. of Children and Families is retiring at the end of the month.

On Friday, the Governor's Office announced DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who had led the agency since February 2012, would retire as of December 1 of this year.

In his announcement, Gov. Sam Brownback said Gilmore, 72, had "reduced childhood poverty, helped more adults find self-reliance through employment, increased child support collections and empowered people with disabilities to find meaningful work."

Gilmore is the second-longest serving Secretary in DCF history. In her time at the helm, she overhauled the state's welfare program, creating what Brownback called "a nationwide model that other states have sought to replicate." The Governor's Office says by focusing on self-reliance and empowering families, there has been a 78% drop in the number of Kansans on welfare.

“Those accomplishments can be directly attributed to the countless hours Phyllis devoted with single-minded focus on helping build strong families. I am thankful for her devotion and wish her the very best in the next chapter of her life,” Brownback said.

Gilmore said she was looking forward to spending more time with her family, especially with her four grandchildren.

“When I was appointed as secretary of the agency, I made a commitment to serve Governor Sam Brownback on his vision for a brighter future for Kansas children and families,” said Secretary Gilmore.

“Together, with the Brownback Administration we have built a legacy that promotes independence, encourages personal responsibility and protects the children of Kansas that will endure for years to come,” she continued.

The Administration pointed to the Anne E. Casey Foundation's 2017 Kids Count Report that said childhood poverty fell by 26% and a Health and Human Service Federal Child and Family Review that said Kansas had one of the safest child welfare systems in the country.

DCF has been in the spotlight for more than a year. In July 2016, state auditors issued a report saying the Kansas Department for Children and Families is struggling to adequately oversee private foster care contractors, putting children in the system at risk.

The 59-page audit found DCF is assigning children to foster homes that don't have space for them, lack financial resources, and do not keep proper documentation.

Gilmore told the committee while she disagrees with some of the methodology auditors used, she admits DCF could do better.

"It sounds like a very negative audit which it is we would not disagree on many of its findings," Gilmore said at the time.

A legislative post audit review the state's foster care contractors often asked supervisors to take on large caseloads because of staff vacancies. Also, while family support workers met or exceeded education requirements, nearly half lacked sufficient experience.

The audit also found the state does have enough foster care beds available overall, but many counties and cities are lacking. As of June 30, 2016, about 18 percent of the more than 3,000 children in foster care were placed more than 100 miles from their homes

In September, state contractors acknowledged that dozens of foster children in Kansas have stayed in their offices overnight in the past year because places for them can't be found.

Contractors KVC Kansas and Saint Francis Community Services told a state task force Tuesday that more than 100 abused and neglected children stayed overnight in offices from September 2016 through the end of June of this year.

The following month, the two contractors revealed more than 70 children are missing from the state's foster care system. The Wichita Eagle reported that Topeka Sen. Laura Kelly had raised concerns that Gilmore appeared unaware three sisters, ages 15, 14 and 12, have been missing from a Tonganoxie foster home since August 26th.

Gilmore reportedly said she could not discuss the case, but added some children leave to go back to their biological families or others with whom they have a relationships to avoid foster care.