TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas lawmakers are debating who should be allowed to appoint the chief position to oversee the rights of thousands of children in the state. The state’s Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight asked Governor Laura Kelly on Thursday to rescind an executive order creating the position of the Child Advocate and to work with lawmakers to fill the position.

“It’s very important for the children and the parents to have that advocate,” said Senator Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, who chairs the committee. “Someone who has transparency and the ability to look into things, and independence.”

Kansas’ Joint Committee on Child Welfare Oversight hears from organizations and individuals impacted by child welfare decisions. (KSNT/ Rebekah Chung)

The future leader of the state’s Division of the Child Advocate remains up in the air.

Governor Laura Kelly signed an executive order to establish the new division last month. The governor is expected to fill the position, which she said will have independent oversight. However, some Republican lawmakers are skeptical, fearing that the future position will lack transparency.

“I strongly feel that they don’t have that independence because it’s directly under the governor, who is directly over DCF,” Sen. Hilderbrand said. “So, we need to get that into a position where it is truly an independent agency.”

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, who chairs the Joint Committee on Child Welfare System Oversight, argues that the state’s Child Advocate should be an “independent” position. (KSNT/ Rebekah Chung)

Lawmakers attempted to create a similar role earlier this year, but it didn’t pass. Under the legislature’s plans, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is set up to square off with Gov. Kelly in the governor’s race next November, would have had the authority to appoint the position.

The governor’s executive order established the new role, which will be tasked with compiling complaints on behalf of kids within the child welfare system, as well as reviewing practices of agents in the system and educating children and families on their rights.

Sen. Hilderbrand told Kansas Capitol Bureau Thursday about the committee’s plans to look into whether the governor has the authority to make that appointment under her executive order and whether an agreement can be reached between the legislature and the administration about the special position.

Some democrats also agree that the role should be independent of the administration.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, talks about issues plaguing the state’s child welfare system during a committee meeting. The senator said some of the issues people are dealing with, including needing “welfare benefits, food stamps, and medical cards.” (KSNT/ Rebekah Chung)

Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said it should be a “stand-alone entity.” The democratic senator said the committee will also be looking into whether the governor has the power to use her executive order to “expedite” the child advocate role.

“As far as the child advocate center itself, I think the majority of legislators agreed we needed to do something,” Sen. Faust-Goudeau said. “We all think something needs to be done, but the route we take to get to that goal, that’s always the big question.”