TOPEKA (KSNT) – A Lawrence woman has been selected to be the Kansas Child Advocate and lead the new department that will oversee child welfare services.
Kerrie Lonard of Lawrence was named to head the department by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday.
“When we began our search for the Child Advocate, we knew we would need a strong leader – someone who could take on the systemic challenges facing our state’s child welfare system,” Governor Kelly said.
Although the governor will appoint someone to the position, neither the governor nor the legislature can fire the advocate, keeping the position from becoming political.
The Division of Child Advocate will assist Kansans with navigating the more “complicated” paths parents and seniors have to take. Governor Kelly said her office took a deep dive into the foster care system in Kansas and what they found was “shameful.” The governor said children would get stuck in the system due to a lack of resources.
Lonard has worked at Kansas Legal Services in Topeka for nearly 14 years, serving as both a staff attorney and managing attorney. As managing attorney, she supervised staff in providing legal assistance to members of the public, often in areas of family law and child-in-need-of-care cases.
“The Child Advocate will strengthen existing oversight in the child welfare system and provide more accountability for Kansans that receive child welfare-related services,” DCF Secretary Laura Howard said.
Lonard has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Kansas, a Master of Social Work from Washburn University, and is a graduate of Washburn University School of Law.
“I’m committed to the long road and hard work ahead that is needed to ensure the best interest of our children remains at the forefront,” Lonard said.
Kansas became the 14th state to create an independent advocate to oversee child welfare services.
The Division of the Child Advocate was established by Governor Kelly through Executive Order #21-28. When structures are in place, it will act as a centralized entity to:
- Protect Kansas children and families from harm by providing an independent oversight and accountability system for public and private entities involved in child welfare.
- Compile and receive complaints made on behalf of children within the child welfare system.
- Review the practices of agents in the child welfare system.
- Provide nonpartisan, independent reports to the Governor, Legislature, and Judicial Branches each year. These reports will detail the complaints received by the office and provide recommendations to improve services and systems.
- Improve coordination between state agencies, contractors, and partners in the child welfare space to ensure all Kansas children and families receive quality services.
- Educate children and families of their rights and entitlements under state and federal law and serve as a resource for families attempting to navigate the child welfare system.