The state agency tasked with investigating child abuse plans to lower the amount of evidence needed to substantiate a claim of abuse or neglect.
Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told lawmakers Tuesday the agency will decrease the standard of evidence it uses when investigating from “clear and convincing” to “preponderance of the evidence.”
In effect, the change will mean that only 51 percent of the evidence needs to point to abuse or neglect actually taking place in order for a claim to be substantiated.
The change doesn’t constrain judges, who decide whether to remove a child from a home. But it will make it easier for DCF to get individuals accused of abusing or neglecting a child onto a state registry. Those on the registry are barred from working or living in a child care home or facility.
“We’re the only state in the country that’s using ‘clear and convincing,’ ” Gilmore said.
According to information provided by Gilmore, four children died in foster care in Kansas during fiscal year 2015, which ended July 1. One child has died during the current fiscal year.
The number of deaths in 2015 was the highest number of foster care deaths since 2006, when five children died. However, only one of those deaths was from maltreatment.
Kansas also experienced a foster care death due to maltreatment in 2014. Before that, the most recent maltreatment death occurred in 2006.
The announcement came at the first and probably only meeting of the Foster Care Adequacy Committee, an interim joint legislative committee. Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, served as the chairman — and indicated he has questions about the proposal.
“I thought about asking her (Gilmore) about safety. I hate to even mention this, but I’m thinking about my kids. Do they live a safe life? They ride bikes without helmets, they’re out in the country, they’re climbing trees. I put ropes from trees for them to swing on to go into the pond. Is that safe?” Knox said, alluding to his 13 children.
“I don’t want to say that. Kids get hurt, kids get killed. It’s terrible, but you’ve got to live a childhood, too. So where do you draw that line?”
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, also said she had questions about the change.
“I wanted them to give me some clear-cut examples of what difference it would have made in certain cases. She (Gilmore) just glosses over everything like it’s no big deal,” Kelly said.
Separately, Gilmore acknowledged DCF continues to have issues recruiting and retaining social workers. She said the agency is looking at ways to award longevity with the agency.