Governor Laura Kelly Signs Senate Bill 115: Establishing the Office of Child Advocate as an Independent State Agency

By Trish Svoboda

On April 22, Governor Laura Kelly enacted Senate Bill 115, which sets up the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) as a standalone state agency. This bill also authorizes the advocate to access specific documents and records related to children in child welfare cases.

S.B. 115 establishes the role of the Child Advocate as the independent leader of the OCA, appointed by the Governor and ratified by the Senate. The Child Advocate, chosen irrespective of political ties, is a person with comprehensive experience in case management, clinical services, or legal services for children and families. The Child Advocate is appointed for a tenure of five years.

The idea of establishing the Office of Child Advocate began with the efforts of the Child Welfare System Task Force in 2017. However, from 2017 to 2021, lawmakers were unable to find common ground to set up the office.

In October 2021, the Division of the Child Advocate was set up as an independent entity by Governor Kelly through Executive Order 21-28. Following this, Governor Kelly collaborated with bipartisan legislators in both the House and Senate to legally establish the Office of Child Advocate.

In addition, S.B. 115 outlines the responsibilities and authorities of the Office of Child Advocate (OCA) and the Child Advocate. These include addressing and resolving grievances about child welfare, managing a public website, referring instances of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement, and delivering annual reports to specified organizations

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