President Trump has announced that Elizabeth Darling is his choice to serve as the commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF), one of the top child welfare jobs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The job would mark a return to the agency for Darling, who spent three years with ACYF under George W. Bush helping establish the HHS Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Since 2009 Darling has been CEO of the OneStar Foundation, a philanthropic entity that works to improve the capacity and performance of nonprofits in Texas. Before that, she was the chief operating officer of the Corporation for National and Community Services, which oversees the federal AmeriCorps service learning project.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Darling will take over the division of HHS that oversees two child welfare agencies:
- The Children’s Bureau, which among other things manages the multi-billion dollar IV-E child welfare entitlement, which just received a significant overhaul from Congress.
- The Family and Youth Services Bureau, a smaller section that makes grants related to pregnancy prevention and serving runaway or homeless youth.
ACYF itself is a part of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which also includes Head Start, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, and several other family services-related agencies.
The Children’s Bureau is led by Jerry Milner, who is currently serving in an interim role as commissioner until Darling is officially on the job. Milner, who was a civil servant at ACYF during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has been the public face of child welfare policy for the Trump administration, and recently penned an op-ed in The Chronicle of Social Change promoting the administration’s call for a more flexible block grant option for states willing to forgo the protection of the IV-E entitlement structure.
Trump long ago nominated Lynn Johnson, executive director of the Jefferson County (Colorado) Department of Human Services, to head up ACF, the parent agency for all of this work. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on Johnson next Tuesday.
For the time being, Darling will be the top child welfare official as HHS prepares to accommodate sweeping changes to the federal IV-E entitlement, which heretofore has reimbursed states mostly for costs related to foster care placements and adoption subsidies. The Family First Prevention Services Act, which became law last month, creates a slate of reimbursable front-end options to help states pay for efforts at addressing abuse and neglect without using foster care.
The bill also puts a two-week clock on federal funding for congregate care and group homes under the IV-E entitlement.
The law’s main provisions don’t kick in until October of 2019. But Congress set a deadline of October 2018 for HHS to establish a clearinghouse of allowable front-end services, one of the many areas in which the agency will need to provide guidance to states.
“The Families First Act is a complex piece of legislation that made significant changes to existing programs as well as created a new funding stream that carries extensive requirements,” said ACF spokesperson Monique Richards, in an email to Youth Services Insider. “The Children’s Bureau … is still in the process of analyzing the legislation in order to determine an implementation plan and timeline.”
Darling has state-level experience with many of the federal programs related to youth and family services. She was the deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees the states welfare, Medicaid, child welfare and child care programs.
Darling served at ACYF from 2001 to 2003, helping establish the HHS Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Under the Bush administration, each cabinet-level agency with a focus on domestic work set up a faith-based outpost that connected to a central White House division.
CORRECTION, March 14: This article was updated to reflect that Jerry Milner was previously a civil servant at ACYF, and not an appointee of President Bush.