Governor Kelly Signs Bipartisan Bill Establishing Office of the Child Advocate

Governor Laura Kelly today signed Senate Bill 115, establishing the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) as an independent state agency and granting the advocate access to certain files and records of children involved in child welfare proceedings.

“This bill is a significant step forward in ensuring the welfare of children in our state,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “Establishing the Office of Child Advocate as an independent, permanent agency promotes accountability and transparency, undoubtedly protecting more Kansas children. I am proud to support this landmark legislation and appreciate legislators’ willingness to work together to finally put the office into law.”

Senate Bill 115 codifies the position of the Child Advocate as the independent head of the OCA, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Child Advocate, selected without regard to political affiliation, is an individual possessing extensive experience in case management, clinical services, or legal services to children and families. The Child Advocate will serve a term of five years.

The concept of creating the Office of Child Advocate began in 2017 with the Child Welfare System Task Force’s work.  Between 2017 and 2021, legislators could not reach a compromise to establish the office.

“For over seven years, we have worked tirelessly to pass this legislation. The concept of an Office of Child Advocate has taken many forms, been heavily debated in the Legislature, and— far too often— got caught up in disagreements over the details,” said Kansas State Representative Jarrod Ousley, District 24. “I’m proud to have played a part in crafting this legislation with my colleagues, the Governor’s Office, and child welfare advocates. The Office of Child Advocate will make Kansas’s child welfare system more accountable and protect children from falling through the cracks.”

“The passage of SB 115 gives us the peace of mind that we will have a future of advocacy for Kansas kids who are in the child welfare system,” said Kansas State Representative Susan Concannon, District 107. “Passing this legislation is even more satisfying because it’s been a long time coming. I truly appreciate all who worked on this through the years, especially those who shared a determination to see it through this year.”

In October 2021, Governor Kelly issued Executive Order 21-28 to establish the Division of the Child Advocate as an independent office. Since then, Governor Kelly worked with legislators in the House and Senate from both parties to establish the Office of Child Advocate in statute.

“So many Kansas parents have told me that our welfare system actually created new harms within their families. They’ve begged for there to be someone they could trust to help them,” said Kansas State Senator Molly Baumgardner, District 37. “These harms were echoed at the Kansas Child Welfare Summit held last week, when former foster care youth recounted the physical and emotional trauma they endured when taken from their homes. That’s why I believe having the Office of the Child Advocate as an independent agency is an important step for protecting the rights and wellbeing of our vulnerable children and families in Kansas.”

Additionally, Senate Bill 115 outlines various duties and powers of the OCA and the Child Advocate, including receiving and resolving complaints related to child welfare, maintaining a public website, making referrals of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement, and submitting annual reports to designated entities.

“We appreciate the lawmakers and advocates that worked together on the Office of Child Advocate bill,” said Rachel Marsh, CEO of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas. We believe the legislation strengthens support for Kansas children and families and stays true to the OCA’s focus on making impactful change in the child welfare system.”

“We are very pleased to see the Office of the Child Advocate enshrined in statute,” said Mike Fonkert, Deputy Director of Kansas Appleseed. “This important legislation will ensure that all Kansans, but especially our children and families, have an independent place to turn to when they encounter problems with our child welfare system.  This marks over six years of effort to get this done, and we cannot be more grateful to the leaders that worked on this over these many years.  We know that putting this office into law will help protect Kansas children today, tomorrow, and long into the future.”

In addition to Senate Bill 115, Governor Kelly also signed the following bills:

Senate Bill 18: Establishes the Kansas Campus Restoration Fund which will provide annual funding for maintenance and capital improvement projects at Kansas universities and colleges.

Senate Bill 356: Updates terms, definitions, and conditions relating to the requirements of real estate closings, workers compensation pools, and fees for the examination of insurance companies.

Senate Bill 359: Provides distinct license plates for the Kansas City Chiefs, Sporting Kansas City, Sedgwick County Zoo, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Current, Topeka Zoo, Support the Troops, and the first city of Kansas. The bill also requires distinctive license plates to have the county of registration included on the license plate.

Senate Bill 384: Provides authority to the Board of EMS to allow flexibility for ambulance staffing regulations for interhospital transfers. The bill also creates the Riley County unincorporated area and Crawford County unincorporated area nuisance abatement acts.

Senate Bill 455: Prohibits utilities from exercising eminent domain for the siting or placement of solar generation facilities.

House Bill 2787: Modernizes the Kansas insurance guaranty association act and Kansas life and health insurance guaranty association act to reflect national standards.