Trump Nominates Lynn Johnson to Lead ACF; Jerry Milner Brought in To Lead ACYF

The Trump administration has nominated Lynn Johnson, head of the child welfare system in one of Colorado’s largest counties, to lead the Administration on Children and Families (ACF), the branch of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees most spending on family services, foster care and adoption.

The Trump administration has also brought in Jerry Milner, who helped develop the federal child welfare review process, to serve as the acting commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), which is a branch of the broader Administration for Children and Families.

Johnson is the executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Human Services. The county sits just outside of the Denver area, and its hub is Golden, Colo., the headquarters of the Coors Brewing Company.

Johnson came to Jefferson County from the statehouse, where she served as chief of staff to former Lieutenant Gov. Jane Norton, who would again be her superior. Norton is currently the director of intergovernmental and external affairs for HHS.

Johnson also served as deputy director for policy and as a human services policy advisor for former Colorado Governor Bill Owens.

Milner will at least temporarily oversee ACYF, which is comprised of the Children’s Bureau (CB), which oversees federal data collection and the administration of major funding streams like Title IV-E and IV-B; and the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), which oversees a handful of small discretionary programs focused on runaway/homeless youth, domestic violence and sex education.

Milner is also listed as the acting director for CB; career ACYF staffer Debbie Powell is currently the acting in charge of FYSB.

Milner was director of the family division at the Alabama Department of Human Resources before joining the George W. Bush administration as a policy specialist. Since then he has served as vice president of child welfare practice for the Center for the Support of Families, a Beltway-area consulting group that specializes in health and human services. The organization was acquired by SLI Global Solutions last summer.

During his time in the Bush administration, Milner’s focus was on development and implementation of the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), a federal effort to periodically assess the performance outcomes of state child welfare agencies. States are assessed based on a mix of data and a small set of case reviews from certain areas; deficiencies and solutions to them are outlined in a subsequent “program improvement plans.”

This replaced a review process that almost entirely focused on state compliance with federal procedure, not whether children were safer or more stable after contact with systems. The shift in focus was approved under President Bill Clinton and then implemented by Bush.

We are currently in the midst of the third round of CFSR – by 2018, all states will have been reviewed three times – and not a single state has passed one. And while the Department of Health and Human Services is empowered to levy significant financial penalties against states that don’t improve, only a few small fines have ever been handed out.

The Obama administration solicited comments on the CFSR and then produced changes that drew praise from the research community. ““I believe that the CFSR was vastly improved,” said Richard Barth, in a January conversation with Youth Services Insider. “The logic, underlying statistical methods, and procedures were rigorously reviewed and the implementation is much improved as a result. The approach builds on the strengths of existing state quality improvement practices in innovative ways.”

It will be interesting to see what Milner has in mind for the venture he helped start under Bush. As head of ACYF and CB, he’ll have direct control of the process. It is hard to see the process being taken seriously for much longer if every state continues to fail, and no state faces any real consequences for that.

Milner joins a growing cast of former Bush officials brought in by the Trump administration to lead ACF. Among them:

  • Steven Wagner, acting head of ACF
  • Clarence Carter, head of the Office of Family Assistance
  • Scott Lloyd, head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement

Click here for more details on those staff and more youth-related hires by the Trump administration.

YSI has also heard from several policy people close to HHS that Wade Horn has been consulting HHS Secretary Tom Price on youth and family policy. Horn, who is a director for the health and human services team at the Deloitte consulting firm, was Bush’s head of ACF.

When we tried to confirm Horn’s temporary position of influence in April, HHS national spokeswoman Alleigh Marre informed us that HHS was “not commenting on personnel at this time.”

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.