KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) — Limited information released by Kansas DCF Friday shows how many times someone tried to ask the agency for help before 3-year-old Olivia Jansen’s death.
Olivia’s dad Howard Jansen III and his girlfriend, Jacqulyn Kirkpatrick, are both charged with first-degree murder for her death.
So, KCTV5’s Emily Rittman sat down with the secretary of the DCF for answers to our questions and some of yours.
For weeks, KCTV5 talked with family members and community members who are frustrated with how Olivia’s case was handled. For the first time, we got to ask the DCF secretary about their concerns, including concerns from protesters.
“One thing we heard them chant over and over again is that DCF failed. What’s your response to that?” Rittman asked.
“You know, I don’t sit here today with a belief, with what I know today, that DCF failed in following its policies and practices. What I do know is a child isn’t alive. So, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us — you know, DCF, other systems, and the community — to say how might we best protect children,” said Laura Howard, Secretary for the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Before an autopsy determined Olivia’s death was caused by a brain bleed and her body was found badly bruised buried in a shallow grave, DCF received two reports on Feb. 28 of this year alleging both Howard Jansen III and Jackie Kirkpatrick caused bruising and injuries to Olivia.
“We saw no evidence of injury,” said Howard. “We continued that investigation. A person who reported the abuse recanted and we simply didn’t substantiate that.”
After DCF determined that report was unsubstantiated, they received another report on June 22 just 18 days before Olivia’s death. That June report accused Jansen and Kirkpatrick of parental substance abuse and inability to provide proper care for Olivia. When DCF contacted the family, they were told Olivia and Kirkpatrick were out of state.
“Our worker insisted on having a live video chat so she could see Olivia and talk to Olivia, and did not see any indication of any lack of wellbeing,” Howard said. “If this had been an allegation of physical abuse in the way that the February call was, then I think that would have been handled in a different way.”
Olivia’s father tested positive for marijuana after that June report. We asked why the father’s girlfriend wasn’t drug tested, but DCF could not comment.
We also asked if a video call instead of a home visit is sufficient when investigating suspected child abuse because it might be easier to conceal signs of abuse.
“Do you have ways of verifying if somebody is actually out of town or if they’re just really trying to dodge the system?” Rittman asked.
“I don’t have any information to verify that. In a case that would be alleging physical abuse. I’m just speaking generally now. Those are the sorts of circumstances where perhaps we would have reached out to the other state and asked them if someone could see the child in person while they are out of state,” Howard said.
KCTV5 News also questioned if other children living in the home were interviewed by DCF about what was happening behind closed doors.
“I can’t speak further than what’s on the summary, just based on some of the legal confidentiality requirements,” Howard said.
Olivia’s step-grandmother, Elisabeth Jansen, says she called police and DCF to report her concerns about Olivia’s safety.
“Plenty of people called and we are telling them, ‘We’re concerned about Olivia,’” she said. “Their job doesn’t have room for error because when you screw up, somebody can die.”
The DCF secretary said they will conduct a deeper critical incident review to determine if there are ways to improve.