OPINION

Governor acted to protect Kansas children. Legislature should work to strengthen her executive order.

Natalie Zarate and Grey Endres
Special to Gannett Kansas
Natalie Zarate
Grey Endres

Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope, an independent coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to reforming the Kansas foster care system, applauds Gov. Kelly's executive action to create the Division of the Child Advocate.

True to form, her opponents responded quickly. To call the governor’s decision a “slap in the face” is to ignore the continued failures of Kansas child welfare. To predict that the Division of the Child Advocate will fail before it begins is misaligned.

To make children and their families wait a moment longer for an advocate is the real harm.

Multiple child welfare committees have met, reviewed data and endless reports, drafted recommendations, and yet very little has been done to protect children. As long as child welfare is used as a political weapon, Kansas will continue to fail the children it intends to serve.

If we wait for the 2022 Legislature to act, it would be at least another eight months before a child advocate office would be established. Given the failures of HB 2345 and SB 301 this past year, there is little guarantee that the Legislature would get the job done during the next session, despite the best efforts of legislators, like Reps. Jarrod Ousley and Susan Concannon, who worked for years to establish a child advocate.

Sens. Richard Hilderbrand and Molly Baumgardner should use their collective power to strengthen and make permanent the governor’s executive order. The Division of the Child Advocate will provide nonpartisan independent reports detailing complaints and recommendations to the governor, legislature, and the judicial branches.

It will provide independent oversight and accountability to all Kansans.

We know that this does not mark the end of this journey. Our foster care system continues to have immense problems that the Division of the Child Advocate alone will not remedy.

Kansas must provide transparent, client-centered, solution-focused and trauma-informed care, training and resources to all families that need help in parenting their children, recovering from trauma and breaking the cycle of domestic violence. We must continue to elevate the importance of foster families and provide them the resources they need to appropriately care for children with even the highest needs.

And we must work to create a system that has agencies with stable, experienced, and compassionate staff members with the resources they need to keep Kansas kids safe.

We are grateful for the years of hard work and commitment from so many Kansans who have been personally impacted by the foster care system that led us to where we are today. We commend Gov. Kelly for her leadership and we call on the state Legislature to join with us to protect children.

The children have waited long enough.

Grey Endres is a steering committee member of Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope, an independent coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to reforming Kansas's foster care system. Natalie Zarate, an advocate and former foster care youth, is a steering committee member of Strengthen Families Rebuild Hope. Learn more at RebuildHopeKansas.org.