As the first step in reforming an agency she says is plagued by mismanagement, Governor-elect Laura Kelly today announces Laura Howard as the interim secretary of the Department for Children and Families (DCF). Howard will also serve as interim secretary of the Department for Aging and Disabilities Services (KDADS).
“Laura Howard is the perfect expert to lead DCF and KDADS at this challenging time,” said Kelly. “She has a long history of building coalitions to better deliver services to vulnerable Kansans. Throughout her career, she’s developed a reputation as an expert in state funded services and collaboration between agencies and organizations.”
Howard is currently the Director of the Public Management Center in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. She has a law degree from the University of Kansas and Bachelor’s degrees in Public Administration and Economics from Miami University.
“This is a challenging time for the Department for Children and Families,” said Kelly. “We’ve seen the agency dismantled by ideology and mismanagement. We need a leader to get to work on day one to ensure our most vulnerable Kansans are safe. I know Laura Howard will bring the remaining dedicated staff together with our new team to fix the problems in a transparent way.”
Previously, Howard served as a regional administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also served in several senior positions at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services over 15 years, including Deputy Secretary for Health Care Policy where she led the state’s Medicaid, behavioral health and disability programs. She started her career as a fiscal policy analyst at the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
“In the last 18 months, I’ve been impressed by Laura Kelly’s ability to ask tough questions and demand accountability from this struggling agency,” said Howard. “I am pleased to be a part of this team dedicated to rebuilding our state agencies. We have a long, challenging road ahead of us. But both the governor-elect and I are committed to working hard within the agency, as well as with advocates and stakeholders, to improve the child welfare system and ensure our children are safe.”.
According to a release from KU when Howard was appointed to her current position: “Throughout her career and volunteer experiences she has been looked to as a thoughtful adviser, strategist, expert in state financing, and cross-agency and cross-systems collaborator. Howard has won several awards for advocacy in human services.”
In addition to announcing Howard’s appointment, Kelly requested the current DCF leadership also delay implementation of the new foster care and family preservation “grant” programs. These so-called “grants” are essentially no-bid contracts that did not follow the state’s official procurement process. The governor-elect and incoming secretary will review whether the “grants” are legal and in the best interests of Kansas children and families.
“The process in which these grantees were evaluated and selected has not been transparent,” said Kelly. “Despite our best efforts during the transition, accurate and forthright information from current DCF leadership was hard to come by. In the coming months, our team will work to evaluate the current programs and contracts to determine the best path forward for our children and families.”
Kelly’s staff has contacted all grant recipients and requested they delay spending any state dollars until further notice by the incoming secretary.
Kelly will become governor in 11 days.