Wichita A national child protection organization on Thursday demanded the resignation of the head of the Kansas child welfare agency after he backed off a secretly recorded statement in which he accused prosecutors of bullying his caseworkers into including things they do not believe in sworn affidavits.
Don Jordan, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, wrote in an opinion column published Thursday in The Wichita Eagle that he did not know of any instance in which social workers committed perjury or misrepresented the facts in court documents used to remove children from their families.
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform said it would call on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to demand Jordan's resignation. The group will join Citizens for Change at a news conference today, followed by a public forum on Saturday.
Jordan wrote that some individuals had taken his "few poorly considered" comments for their own purposes and stretched them beyond anything he knew or believed.
At issue are 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."
Jordan wrote that the disputes he was referring to had nothing to do with the veracity of the information in legal documents but with differences in opinion about which facts were relevant to cases in assessing a child's safety.
The basis for those remarks were anecdotal accounts provided through the years, he said, and were not specific to Sedgwick County but to many jurisdictions in Kansas.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said she found his latest explanation "disingenuous," adding it is very clear he was pointedly making her county the object of his comment. Foulston said Jordan's comments had unfairly called into question her office's credibility and whether prosecutors were soliciting perjured information.
Foulston said that when she learned of Jordan's comments, she started an inquiry within her office. She said she asked Deputy District Attorney Ron Paschal, who oversees child-in-need-of-care cases, if he knew of prosecutors pressuring social workers. "His answer was an emphatic 'No."'
Jordan also wrote in his column that much had been made of his telling Paschal that he was "pandering" when he made the initial comments.
"In attempting to bridge our differences with the advocacy group Citizens for Change by demonstrating empathy toward the members' situation, I discussed a topic with them that should have been between the officials involved and me. That it fed their worst suspicions about the child welfare system reinforced what a poor decision it was."
Citizens for Change President Vickie Burris said Jordan should stand by his comments made at the meeting: "First he was pandering to my group. Now he is pandering to the public."
An observer at the meeting made the secret recording, she said.
"He said it. He meant it when he said it. He did not withdraw it when he said it. If he can't stand by the words he uttered ... then what on Earth is he doing in this position?" Burris said.
She said she has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the state agency. Federal law requires child welfare agencies to make reasonable efforts to keep children out of foster care.
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform said it plans to release an updated version of its December 2007 report on Kansas child welfare at its news conference today, including recommendations prompted by Jordan's statements.