A bipartisan Legislative agency will soon begin an investigation into whether social workers are being unduly influenced by prosecutors in child removal cases across Kansas.
A bipartisan Legislative agency will soon begin an investigation into whether social workers are being unduly influenced by prosecutors in child removal cases across Kansas.Deputy Post Auditor Leo Hafner said Thursday that the investigation into the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services will start in the next two or three weeks.Although the probe originated because of allegations of bullying by the Sedgwick County district attorney’s office, the audit will be conducted statewide to give it “the most bang for the buck,” Hafner said.The Legislative Post Audit Committee last month approved the SRS probe after statements by SRS Secretary Don Jordan that the Sedgwick County prosecutors “bullied” social workers to put things in affidavits they did not truly believe.Jordan has since backed off those statements, and District Attorney Nola Foulston has denied the accusation. But lawmakers still pushed for an investigation — saying they had heard such allegations even before Jordan’s widely publicized statements.“SRS fully intends to cooperate with LPA during the course of the audit, and we look forward to seeing any resultant findings,” SRS spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said in an e-mail.The committee decided on Sept. 17 to pursue the audit proposal submitted by Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, because it was broad in scope. A similar request for an investigation of SRS had also been submitted by Rep. Michael O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.Schodorf said she asked for the audit after Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six declined to investigate, citing Jordan’s retraction of his statements.In a July 22 letter to the senator, Six wrote that without further evidence he did not believe an investigation by his office was warranted.“I decided to pursue it more because we have had so many complaints and these people are very persuasive,” Schodorf said. “They have very specific examples of what they thought was mishandled in their case, and I thought we needed to look at it ... especially because these were cases concerning children.”The findings will be forwarded to the Kansas Attorney General’s office, which is standard procedure, Hafner said. The results will also be forwarded to any oversight committees, like the social services committee, for possible legislative action.“If they feel laws need to be changed, legislation may be introduced to do that,” Hafner said. “They really do not have a hammer to make things change — unless the budgetary office puts in some provisos to cause the agency to change things.”Investigators plan to survey social workers about any concerns over prosecutorial pressure in an effort to identify areas of the state that appear to have potential problems, according to the audit’s scope statement. For any specific cases identified, more in-depth interviews would be conducted.The post audit also will examine whether social workers and case managers receive sufficient training to deal with prosecutors and the courts. It will also look at whether there are enough SRS workers to handle caseloads.The simmering suspicions that led to the probe were stoked by statements Jordan made during a March 18 meeting with Citizens for Change in Topeka, in which he said: “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 also 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.”The investigation is expected to take 15-20 weeks to complete.———On the Net:Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit: http://www.kslegislature.org/postaudit/