Friday, June 20, 2008

Updated report on Kansas child welfare

WICHITA - Today NCCPR releases an update to our report on Kansas child welfare. There’s also a new press release. But things are moving fast, and perhaps even the update needs updating to address a concern that’s already arisen about our call to replace the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, Don Jordan.

The concern is that this might merely give Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius an easy way to avoid the real issues. She could replace Jordan with someone no better. She still would fail to address the take-the-child-and-run mentality that permeates SRS. And, of course, it wouldn’t address all the known problems in the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office – problems that are serious and real regardless of whether one believes Jordan’s allegation (subsequently recanted) the assistant district attorney’s bully, scream at, yell at, cuss at and threaten caseworkers.

Indeed, it could be argued that, were Jordan replaced, the D.A.’s office might somehow declare victory and claim to be vindicated. And, indeed, the Governor, after finally breaking her silence on the issue, has evaded all the real problems.

Those are valid concerns. They are illustrated by an editorial in today's Wichita Eagle which calls for Jordan's resignation - but only because he supposedly maligned the D.A.'s office. (Although for the first time I am aware of, the Eagle expressed concern about the high rate of child removal in Sedgwick County).

But one can’t solve these problems by leaving in place a social services agency leader who is, at best ineffectual; someone who, when he speaks to you might be telling you what he really things, or might just be “pandering.” If anything, it now will be harder for any caseworkers who may feel they have been bullied, screamed at, yelled at, cussed at, and/or threatened to come forward, since their boss now is on record as not believing it really happened.

Rather, the message must be that Don Jordan must be replaced for the right reasons – not because he said bad things about the D.A.’s office and then took them back, but because he can’t be trusted when he talks to you, because he’s tolerated massive, needless removal of children from their homes, and because he’s tolerated Kansas exploiting a loophole in federal regulations (or exploiting the federal government’s failure to enforce those regulations) too keep thousands of foster care placements out of official statistics.

Replacing Jordan must be only step one – other recommendations, including the urgent need for change in the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office, are discussed in NCCPR’s report.