Agency responses to SRS closing ( .PDF )
More crime, more misery, and really no savings. That would be the end result of closing the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, according to numerous local agency and governmental entities.
The local representatives testified to Douglas County commissioners on Tuesday to help put together an appeal requesting that Gov. Sam Brownback reverse the decision to shut down the office, which deals with thousands of people each week.
“We think that the children and vulnerable adults in Douglas County could face harm and loss, and I cannot put dollars and cents to that," said Sky Westerlund, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Brownback and SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. have said the Lawrence office and eight others must be closed as a cost-cutting move.
Siedlecki has said eliminating the Lawrence office — the largest of the planned closures — will save the state $413,000; most of that is in rent that the state pays.
But representatives of nearly 20 local agencies at the meeting said the savings would be transferred as costs to them.
Most said if the Lawrence office is closed, many vulnerable residents would be unable to access services and would eventually require more expensive medical care.
They also rejected the notion by Brownback and Siedlecki that people could access services by traveling to offices in other cities, such as Topeka, Overland Park and Ottawa, or use the Internet or telephone.
Other agencies said they would see their travel costs and travel time skyrocket because they would have to take people to other cities. This would subtract from the time they have for helping others, they said. And many said they would have to hire more caseworkers and other support employees.
“It is almost going to double the amount of time it will take to work with some of these clients,” said Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter.
He said the SRS office closure seemed like an insurmountable challenge.
“It's almost like trying to deal with inconsistencies in the Bible,” he said. “You just kind of rub them together, and rub them together, and you deal with them.”
Laura Bennetts, co-chair of the Douglas County Commission on Aging, said the loss of the SRS office and social workers, would “be a crisis like losing emergency services at a hospital. We are so reliant on social workers. You cannot replace them.”
Several voiced concern that cases of child abuse would increase without the Lawrence SRS office.
Judy Culley, executive director of Shelter Inc., described how currently, SRS, the Douglas County district attorney’s office, law offices and various other agencies, work together on child abuse cases. Without a local SRS office with knowledgeable employees, she said, “time is lost.”
But state Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, said that in her conversations with administration officials, it was her understanding that SRS will continue to have child protection caseworkers in Lawrence “and have the ability to immediately respond.” SRS officials have also made this statement to the Lawrence Journal-World.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, however, said in his talks with SRS officials, they haven't provided any details on how this would work.
“I will tell the commission, I am not optimistic.” Branson said.
He said that in talking with SRS officials, “When pressed, how many workers, where would they be housed, assigned -- they said to each one of those questions: ‘We don’t know.’ It stunned me,” he said.
He said even if a contingent of SRS employees are based in Lawrence, that won't make up for the loss of numerous social workers currently here who are able to work with families to prevent emergency situations.
“We would just be picking up the pieces once abuse and neglect occurs,” if the office is closed, he said.