Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kansas, SRS problems escalate

The press conference held yesterday by Kansas family rights group Citizens-for-Change has resulted in yet another front page article in the Wichita Eagle condemning certain practices by Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Agency, and Secretary Don Jordan.

It seems that Mr. Jordan has become the target of a feeding frenzy which looks like more of a knee-jerk reaction than a well thought out solution to a very serious problem. AFAC has not joined the call for his resignation as the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform has.

Don't get me wrong, from a family rights perspective, Mr. Jordan is incompetent. But so are most state heads of CPS agencies. He's obviously got something to bring to the job, even if it is only really pretty ass-kissing.

I know from reliable sources that other serious problems were raised at the March 18 meeting with Mr. Jordan, but this one has gotten all the attention. I see a way that Mr. Jordan could come of this smelling like a rose, and save Governer Kathleen Sebelius's precious hopes for a vice presidential slot with Obama. Kansas could become the model for a more family friendly, best practice child welfare agency if the leadership cared for those kind of kudos.

I don't think Mr. Jordan needs to be canned. Instead, I think SRS has a great opportunity to fix their child welfare system, keep the federal funds flowing in, and come out looking like real heroes.

I don't want to flog the Kansas dog like Richard Wexler appears to want to do, what's the point? I want to solve the problem and I have some ideas where pretty much everyone gets to save face. Just in case anyone is interested.

KSN news story

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wichita, Kansas and SRS (CPS)

The Wichita Eagle has just broken a story about SRS practices in that state which mirror practices we have seen in the Texas FLDS cases related to the YFZ Ranch.

It seems Don Jordan, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has blabbed some very incriminating information and it was caught on tape. I have it on good authority that Jordan was accompanied to the subject meeting by certain attorneys whose job it was to insure he didn't blab. It didn't work.

The Eagle reports:

During a meeting with the advocacy group Citizens for Change (CFC) on March 18 in Topeka, Jordan was recorded saying:

"But in Sedgwick County oftentimes we end up writing things because it's what our social workers get bullied by the District Attorney's Office into writing. So they really have no belief in what it says."

Later in the meeting, Jordan said: "I am working on our staff that we do our assessments properly and we not get bullied into writing things we don't believe. But then the reality comes down to, you send a 25-year-old social worker into a room with a 15-year county ADA (assistant district attorney) who is willing to yell at them, cuss at them, scream at them and threaten them, you know."

This disclosure is no surprise to me. Been there, seen that, reported on it. In and of itself, it would not represent a real problem because there are other mechanisms in place under child welfare laws which are designed to short circuit this kind of egregious practice.

One of those checks and and balances are the attorneys who represent the children and the parents in these cases. Each parent has an attorney, as do the children, and these attorneys have the duty to put these caseworkers on the stand and cross examine them as to the truth of their report. Problem is, the attorneys don't challenge the report, don't cross examine the workers and don't demand an evidentiary hearing. This check and balance is effectively broken when these false statements become part of the record without being challenged. And when, by the admission of Judge Burgess who is quoted saying "at least 95 percent" of the cases, parents do not contest moves to keep their children in temporary custody. That's because the lawyers representing the parents refuse to contest it. What's wrong with this picture?

The next check and balance are the judges who hear this information. They are charged with weighing the truth of the matters and insuring a fair and equitable process. But, they resist evidentiary hearings in favor of rubber stamping caseworker recommendations. After all, caseworkers wouldn't lie in an affidavit, would they? In fact, informed sources advise me that parents are rarely even allowed in the courtroom for any hearings in Sedgwick County, including for the death penalty of the family, Termination of Parental Rights. Without a meaningful opportunity to be heard by judicial edict, this check and balance is broken.

What about the caseworkers? They are, after all, the ones trained to manage these cases. They have a duty to the children if not to the parents, to resist allowing a lawyer to manage the case. Lawyers are trained in the law, not in social work. When a caseworker allows a lawyer to impose his practice into her practice, they system is no longer intended to help families, but to serve the prosecutors goal of achieving a win. I've seen plenty of lawyers bullying caseworkers into going against their own judgment and best practices. So, the checks and balances fail, again.

Meanwhile, everyone is backpedaling and playing CYA.

Jordan said he made the comments but wishes he hadn't said "bullied," adding that he respects District Attorney Nola Foulston and her staff.

"I don't think they intend to bully our staff. It was a poor choice of words.... I don't believe anybody's asked to perjure themselves or lie."

I'm not buying this. He also claimed he was 'pandering' to CFC when he blabbed. Since Citizens for Change has been selected by SRS as a collaborator, pandering is a violation of the State Plan and other agreements SRS has with the federal government as a condition of receiving federal funding. Which is it, Mr. Jordan?

Deputy District Attorney Ron Paschal, who oversees Sedgwick County juvenile cases, said his staff reviews the affidavits but does not improperly pressure social workers about what they write in the documents.

Although preserving families is one goal of the child-welfare system, "our utmost concern is the immediate safety of the child," he said.

"We have a job to do, and they have a job to do, and if they come to our office and have not done it, we're not going to hesitate to ask them to follow up," Paschal said.

Prosecutors have the legal authority and responsibility to order that relevant information be put in the affidavits, Paschal said. Social workers don't have to sign them if they disagree, he said

It is not the mission of the lawyer representing SRS to do anything except what SRS instructs him to do. The lawyer has no mission to protect the child. That is SRS's mission, and the lawyer is not permitted to second-guess or trump the caseworker's assessment. In this instance, the prosecutor's office is overstepping it's authority.

And the judges. . .turn a blind eye and justify doing so by qualifying their statements:

Sedgwick County District Judge Jim Burgess, presiding judge in the juvenile division, which handles the child custody cases, said the process is thorough and fair.

Burgess said he is confident that prosecutors "would never intentionally put in false information."

Over the years, he has heard complaints that social workers get pressured but has not seen evidence of it, he said. . .

Have you ASKED to see the evidence, Your Honor? You set the tone, if the lawyers can't object and demand the evidence, it's because you made it clear they had better not object or demand the evidence. See how easy it is to short-circuit an important check and balance?

District Judge Tim Henderson said he typically sees a social worker's affidavit about 48 hours into a child abuse investigation, after a child has been taken into protective custody.

Before he signs a custody order, Henderson said, "I look at the social worker, and I say, 'Do you believe we've done everything we can to prevent this child from being removed from the family?'

"I am very comfortable in the integrity of the DA's office and the (SRS) workers... because I am constantly asking them if they believe it is appropriate," he said.

Belief is not the appropriate standard, Your Honor, evidence is. . .you don't belong on the juvenile bench.

I hope the Wichita Eagle will stay on this story, which is sure to expose even more suspicious practices by SRS in their endeavors to save children who really don't need saving.