Normer Adams: Shifting the Child Welfare Culture at DHS

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Last week Governor-Elect Deal nominated Clyde Reese as the new Commissioner of Department of Human Services pending the expected approval of the DHS Board.  Clyde Reese is currently serving as the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health.

Present Commissioner of DHS, B.J. Walker has served as its Commissioner since May of 2004.  During that time the Department has made remarkable progress in shifting the child welfare culture to family centered practices, increased family engagement and outcome based management and decision making.  Faced with sanctions and fines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a child protection system busting at the seams with nearly 15,000 children, B.J.Walker's mandate from the Governor was to bring about reform and improved outcomes for children.

The numbers tell the story of these past six years.  Since 2004, the number of children in foster care has been reduced by 50%.  The re-abuse rate for children identified by the Department has declined by more than 70% and is half the national standard. Georgia has the fifth lowest rate of recurrence of child maltreatment in the U.S.   In 2004, more than four thousand children had overdue investigations.  Today that number is zero.

Commissioner Walker in a letter to the board of DHS says, "I came here with much enthusiasm and energy.  I leave that same way.  Some of the most remarkable people I have ever known have worked for me here, put forth unbelievable efforts on behalf of the "right work, the right way," and never let lack of time, money or resources take away from their desire to achieve greatness."

She says that her immediate plans are in two arenas.  One is a consulting group with Franklin Covey, whose principles she and the Governor have used to sustained performance in the Department.  The second arena is as a Senior Fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation working to improve grade level reading in Georgia.  She looks forward to continuing to live in Georgia with her husband.

B.J. Walker will be missed on many levels.  Her passion for the work is undeniable.  Her skill to bring about system reform is unsurpassed.  The work was hard.  Still much needs to be done.  B.J. Walker set us on a great course for further excellence in child welfare as a State.

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Normer Adams is Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children and a writer, speaker and consultant on family and social issues such as advocacy, lobbying, and child welfare policy. Learn more at www.gahsc.org/

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