New Kansas governor disputes with DCF over research

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly is up in arms with the state’s troubled child welfare agency for spending public funds to undercut research linking welfare restrictions with a rise in the number of abused children in foster care.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families recently released a $24,000 report calling into question University of Kansas research that Kelly has cited, less than two weeks before she takes office, the Kansas City Star reported. The research backed by Kelly found that certain cash assistance restrictions in recent years have fueled abuse and foster care placements.

Kelly, a Democrat, has expressed a desire to roll back the rules as she prepares to grapple with ongoing issues in Kansas’ child welfare system. It’s unclear whether she’ll be able to do so with a potentially adversarial Legislature controlled by Republicans.

The state’s move to tighten administrative rules for cash assistance was championed by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Kansas child welfare agency has questioned the University of Kansas research’s conclusions for months. The department’s recent evaluation of the KU research found its conclusions were based on incomplete data and analysis.

The evaluation doesn’t make a judgment about the connection between welfare policies and foster care.

Gina Meier-Hummel, the Department for Children and Families’ top administrator, said the evaluation shows that the state can’t rely on one study to change public policy. She said the agency wants to help Kansas residents with their immediate needs, but that the best solution for the long term is to help residents find employment.

Meier-Hummel said her team will continue to review the matter.

Kelly plans to replace Meier-Hummel after she takes office Jan. 14.

Kelly’s spokeswoman Ashley All questioned that the child welfare agency’s leadership thought it would be wise to use $24,000 of public money to pay for the evaluation.

“We believe those funds could have been better spent to directly assist struggling children,” All said.