JEFFERSON CITY — Members of the House Special Committee on Government Oversight asked for transparency and documentation surrounding management of the Department of Social Services on Wednesday.
The committee convened to discuss lack of regulation that led to perpetuating child abuse at residential youth homes. The fact that the abuse came to light through reporting by the Kansas City Star rather than the DSS was a point of consistent frustration for lawmakers as they met with interim Director Jennifer Tidball.
“We can’t get anything, we can’t see anything — we’re blinded,” Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka said. “We have to go in and write policy only when the Kansas City Star breaks it.”
Bailey expressed frustration that the lawmakers have not had access to documents and information related to the management and chain of command of DSS.
Tidball cited a meeting set to take place tomorrow between DSS, House counsel and the Attorney General’s Office to discuss what records they could give to lawmakers.
Rep Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, filed a bill that provides more oversight for youth residential homes. Ingle asked why previous allegations of abuse against unlicensed facilities haven’t been prosecuted before this year.
Tidball said it was a combination of pushback from facility management who would not cooperate with inspectors and a lack of support from local law enforcement.
“I wish our employees could sit in front of you and tell you how they were treated in these unlicensed facilities while they were trying to do their job,” Tidball said. “There was a lot of intimidation happening in these facilities.”
Tidball said she was not aware of the claims of abuse against unlicensed facilities.
Other representatives discussed retaliation against employees of DSS who report mismanagement at DSS to lawmakers.
Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said she and other members of her committee heard reports from low-level DSS employees who said they feared retaliation for complaints made to lawmakers about management.
Tidball insisted employees of DSS were free to speak to lawmakers as long as they didn’t reveal any confidential information.
“There isn’t any reason that someone from the children’s division or anywhere else in the department should fear for their job if they’re having conversations with a legislator,” Tidball said.
The committee also discussed the implementation of HB 1414, which was signed by Gov. Mike Parson last year. The bill includes provisions related to child abuse and neglect policy and background checks for childcare facilities.
The general counsel for DSS said most of the provisions in HB 1414 have been implemented and offered a status update to lawmakers on which sections have been put in place.