TOPEKA, Kan. — Many Kansas legislators upset over the deaths of several children in abusive homes and other problems with the state’s child welfare department appear confident that its new top administrator is improving the agency.

The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Friday unanimously recommended confirming Gina Meier-Hummel as secretary of the Department for Children and Families. She has been the department’s acting secretary since December.

The full Senate could consider Meier-Hummel’s appointment early next week, and she is expected to have little trouble winning confirmation so she can continue serving in Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer’s Cabinet.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat running for governor this year, called Meier-Hummel’s experience “impressive” and said she is confident the new secretary “will be the agent of change.”

“This agency has nowhere to go but up,” Kelly said.

While Meier-Hummel’s confirmation has bipartisan support, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat also running for governor, remains skeptical that much has changed at the department.

“Saying it’s a new day is not the same as having a new day,” Ward said Friday during a news conference.

Meier-Hummell, 49, has worked for a state contractor providing services to abused and neglected children, DCF and the state Department for Aging and Disability Services. Before becoming secretary, she was executive director for a nonprofit Lawrence children’s shelter.

She replaced former Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who retired with the department and the state’s child foster care system facing intense scrutiny and legislative criticism, partly over several child deaths in recent years.

In the case of Evan Brewer, a 3-year-old Wichita boy whose body was found encased in concrete last year, The Wichita Eagle reported this week that department records showed the state received at least eight reports the boy was being abused.

Meier-Hummel told the Senate committee that the department has “cultural issues” she is working to change.

“Quite frankly, for a long time, we’ve not necessarily allowed people to speak, or if they were concerned, to share their concerns openly,” she told reporters after the committee’s meeting. “We’re trying to be open.”

Mitchell Willetts contributed to this story.

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