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Missouri's top welfare official brings diversified background to the job

April 15, 2003
By: Amaia Celorrio
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Steve Roling, the new director of the Department of Social Services, brings a diversified background to the job as Missouri's top welfare official.

Roling was raised in Jefferson City, where he lives with his parents during the week. At weekends, he travels to south Kansas City, where he lives with his wife, Judi.

Roling, 55, is a former senior vice president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He has also worked as assistant director to the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and as a publisher of the Kansas City Business Journal for six years.

With his new job, Roling is returning to his social work roots, as he holds a master's degree in social work and was the director of the Butterfield Youth Services, a residential treatment center for abused and delinquent children.

"All my jobs are a little bit different, but at the same time, they are similar because all of them involve serving people," he said. "They all require building relationships, learning something different, bringing people together and reaching a consensus on what is best to do."

In addition, Roling serves on the boards of various local and national not-for-profit organizations, such as the United Way of Greater Kansas City, Butterfield Youth Services, the Kansas City Neighbourhood Alliance.

So far, Roling has been given fair shot by the Republican-controlled legislature.

"I am looking forward to working with him," said Rep. Chuck Purgason, R-Howell County. "I am glad that they promoted somebody who wasn't working for the department so that he can bring an objective and fresh perspective."

After just a few weeks in his new job, Roling said that although he found the work hard, he was very encouraged and he loved it.

"There is a lot to learn, but it's very interesting and every day I get more passion about what we do and the people we serve," Roling said.

Personally, Roling's main challenge right now is to know the staff as well as the facts and culture in the DSS.

He said his top priority was to improve the child welfare programming.

"We are very concerned with the child welfare programming, so I am going to spend a lot of my personal time working on that," he said.

Gov. Bob Holden has proposed restructuring the state's children welfare system.

"If the legislature don't vote against it, his executive order will go into effect and it will be my job to implement this new structure," he said. "If they don't approve it, I'm going to focus in the child welfare area, that's why I pledged the legislature and the governor.

Roling also said that he was open to privatizing social services.

"In Missouri, we have already privatized 12-13 per cent of social services," he said. "I don't think that privatization is the answer that solves all the problems, but it has worked good in the areas we have tried in Missouri, so I am very open to it."

Roling replaces Kathy Martin, who resigned December 23, one week after Gov. Bob Holden ordered a reorganization of her agency because of troubles in the state's foster care system.

The Social Services Department is Missouri's largest agency, and its director is responsible for the overall administration of all programs within the department; the director determines priorities for program implementation and has final approval for uses of state and federal funds appropriated to the department.