Laura Howard tells her staff that restoration of the state's beleaguered child welfare system is a marathon made up of a series of small sprints.
Senators gushed over Howard's credentials and initiatives during a confirmation hearing Tuesday for Gov. Laura Kelly's pick to take over the Department for Children and Families and Department for Aging and Disability Services. The Senate panel recommended Howard for confirmation.
Howard outlined goals for protecting vulnerable Kansans. She promised to develop report cards, focus on outcomes and break through roadblocks.
"We have to hold a mirror up to ourselves, and we have to be honest about the progress we're making," Howard said.
DCF was plagued with controversy under the administrations of Gov. Sam Brownback and Gov. Jeff Colyer as news surfaced about overlooked abuse, under-reported child deaths, and children sleeping in office spaces.
Howard has three decades of experience in government, including 13 years in social welfare work under previous governors. After leaving the state eight years ago, Howard worked for the federal government and spent the past four years developing nonprofit leaders through a position at the University of Kansas.
"As I reflect back on my professional career, what all of these roles have in common is a focus on public service and good government," Howard said.
The confirmation hearing stood in stark contrast to last week's discussions in a different panel regarding David Toland, the governor's choice for Department of Commerce secretary.
Toland faced criticism over the way he handled business at a nonprofit in Allen County and a social media post in which a photo showed Toland struggling to sleep at night under the bedside gaze of a Republican state legislator.
Sen. Keven Braun, R-Kansas City, thanked Howard for having a noncontroversial resume and the absence of "out-of-control" complaints.
"I appreciate the way you've lived your life up until this point," Braun said.
Howard highlighted priorities that include an emphasis on preventative programs, support for keeping families together and modernization of disability systems.
Additionally, Howard wants to address workforce challenges, evaluate the effectiveness of the privatized child welfare system, emphasize quality of life in managed care, reduce the use of psychotropic medications and overhaul antiquated technology.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said it has been interesting to have Howard back.
"It would just be nice to get inside your brain and see what it looked like when you were here, and then eight years later," McGinn said.