A meeting that was the first of its kind for Los Angeles County pulled together foster youth, community organizations, kinship caregivers, and other concerned citizens this past weekend to cultivate ideas and discuss what qualifications they would like to see included in the search for a new director of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Spearheaded by the National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI), the meeting, called the “DCFS Selection Process Convening,” demonstrated one way the voices of those in and familiar with the child welfare system can be used to help effectively build and improve the system.
The former director of DCFS, Philip Browning, retired in January of 2017 after serving more than five years in the position and coming in at a time that was tough for DCFS; he had been the third director in nine months following Interim Directors Jackie Contreas and Antonia Jimenez.
During the three-hour meeting, attendees were broken into smaller groups and tasked with articulating what qualifications they would like the new director to have. They were also given the opportunity to share their experiences and express their concerns. Garnering responses that included the voices of current and former foster youth, guardians, and other members of the community who had no personal experience with the child welfare system but attended due to interest and concern, the meeting reconvened with one member of each group summarizing their key points.
Major themes included the need for a director who would be an advocate and leader for not only DCFS but the children and families it serves, a thorough familiarity with the state-specific needs of California’s child welfare system, a skill set that includes innovative solutions to system-wide errors and gaps, and an accountable director who understands the importance of utilizing the voice of community stakeholders in the creation and implementation of programs, policy and services.
Now that this information has been collected, NFYI plans to share the insight with the child welfare deputies under Los Angeles County’s five-member Board of Supervisors and will continue aiding in the search for the new DCFS director. The organization will also continue to convene with community members throughout the search, which was announced will be conducted by executive search and labor relations consulting firm Avery Associates.