BELLE PLAINE, Kan. -- A Kansas child welfare agency determined Friday that a 3-year-old girl whose battered body was found this month died as the result of child abuse, a belated finding that comes months after the agency first received reports of abuse.
Laura Howard, Secretary for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said in an phone interview that she doesn't see anything at this time that leads her to question her staff's actions or suggests “any missteps” by her agency.
"What is really important to me in circumstances like this is that we do a deeper dive,” Howard said. “We created a critical incident process within the last year where we will be doing that further deeper review and really mining for those lessons learned — whether that is around procedures, policies, practices — to see whether there is anything here that we can learn,” she said.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families on Friday released a “Child Fatality Summary” pertaining to Olivia Ann Jansen in response to an open records request from The Associated Press. The agency initially balked at releasing any information despite a 2018 law that aimed to make such documents more transparent when a child dies.
Howard said she would have liked to have released the information two weeks ago but that it took time for the agency to investigate whether abuse led to Olivia's death because law enforcement had to take the lead.
Olivia’s remains were found in a shallow grave on July 10 after her father, Howard Jansen III, 29, reported the Kansas City, Kansas, girl missing. The 29-year-old father and his 33-year-old girlfriend, Jacqulyn Kirkpatrick, have since been charged with felony murder and other crimes.
The father's attorney, James Spies, said he has not seen the agency’s report. Spies said the father “adamantly denies the charges against him.”
The attorney for the girlfriend did not immediately return a voice message left at her office.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Olivia’s body was covered with bruises and she died of a brain bleed.
“This obviously has impacted my team, this has impacted my staff who had some involvement with Olivia and these reports,” Howard said.
The newly released information shows the agency received two reports of alleged physical abuse on Feb. 28. One report alleged her father hit Olivia on the leg, leaving a bruise and possibly breaking her leg. The other report alleged the father's girlfriend hit the girl.
Those two February reports were consolidated for investigation purposes, but it is unclear whether they were made by the same person and Howard refused to clarify the matter, citing a gag order in the criminal case. The agency said in its summary that it interviewed and observed Olivia on the same day the report was made and observed no marks or bruises.
After additional interviews, a person who alleged abuse recanted the story. It found the reports unsubstantiated and closed the case without offering any services.
On June 22, Kansas Protection Report Center received a report alleging the girl's caregiver was unavailable or unable to care for her and alleging substance abuse. Because they were reported out of state, the agency initiated a video call June 30 with Kirkpatrick and spoke with Olivia during that call. They noted the girl appeared excited about the upcoming Independence Day holiday.
The agency also contacted the father that same day and requested he take a drug test. He tested positive for THC on July 7. The Family in Need of Assessment case remains open.
While the report does not indicate who made the complaints, the girl's grandparents, Elisabeth and Howard Jansen II, told The Kansas City Star earlier this month that said they expressed fears to the agency last month that drugs were in the home where Olivia lived.