Trump’s First Month: What’s Happening At Federal Juvenile Justice, Child Welfare Offices

Youth Services Insider has been trying to get a handle on what the early days of the Trump administration have brought on at two key youth services agencies: the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) at the Justice Department, and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at Health and Human Services.

The former is the corner of the Justice Department that oversees state compliance with basic federal standards on juvenile justice, and doles out competitive grants for things like mentoring, training and technical assistance and searching for missing children. The latter manages the multi-billion dollar entitlement for foster care and adoption services, among other large funding streams going to states to serve children and families in crisis.

OJJDP

YSI has confirmed that, pursuant to one of President Trump’s executive orders, the new rules governing Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) compliance will be delayed and reviewed. Trump ordered all agencies to issue an immediate 60-day delay on actions published in the federal register that had not taken effect yet.

The JJDPA rules were set to take effect in mid-February; it will be late March at the earliest now, and the new administration might decide to either toss them aside or rewrite them.

Obama’s administrator for the agency, Bob Listenbee, is out. OJJDP’s deputy director, Eileen Garry, is currently the acting administrator. Garry is a veteran civil servant, and has been with the Justice Department since 1995. So to the extent that there are trains to run on time, presumably she will have a handle on that.

There is not much going on, at least publicly, at OJJDP. There has not been so much as a press release on the agency’s website since the Trump administration took over. The last thing posted by OJJDP appears to be a January 13 blog post from former Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, calling for a “rethinking” of America’s approach to young adults in the justice system.

OJJDP’s parent agency, the Office of Justice Programs, hasn’t even updated the public list of of its leadership and has not responded to requests for it.

ACF

Just as the JJDPA rules were finalized in the waning days of the Obama administration, so too were the instructions on updated collection of national child welfare data under the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

But it appears as though the rule will not be subject to a delay and review. The effective date on it is January 13, 2017, which means it was established as rule before the Trump administration took over. But the rule does give states two fiscal years to comply with the new format, and a lot can happen in two years.

Federal child welfare will also be overseen by a veteran civil servant for the time being: Naomi Goldstein, who is now both the acting head of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and the acting commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). The latter is a division of the former.

Goldstein ran ACF’s Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation from 2004 to 2014, and was then placed in the top spot at ACF. She assumed leadership of the ACYF subdivision when Obama’s commissioner, Rafael Lopez, left town.

One of Trump’s early executive orders instituted a hiring freeze for unfilled federal jobs outside of the defense and homeland security sector. YSI assumed that perhaps this would mean a prolonged period of serious instability for three of ACF’s ten regional offices, which are the entities that work directly with states on everything from IV-E funding to Head Start programs.

The regional administrator job for regions three (based in Philadelphia), eight (Denver) and nine (San Francisco) were listed as “vacant” on the day Trump’s order was signed. Several other regions appeared to have vacancies that were filled in the past year.

But two things suggest that perhaps the vacancy at regional administrator positions might not be a huge worry.

First: Since the hiring freeze, one of those three regions was filled. Nikki Hatch, former second-in-command at the Colorado Department of Human Services, was tapped to lead Region Eight.

Among the other relatively recent hires for regional administrators:

  • Elaine Zimmerman, Region One, former executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children.
  • LaKesha Pope Jackson, Region Six, the former director of operations for multi-state provider Southwest Key and a former leader at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Second: During the George W. Bush Administration, the ACF regional offices were reorganized in a way that de-emphasized the regional administrator role. Each of the regions have directors and staff designated for specific ACF operations: Head Start, child support enforcement, Temporary Assistance for Need Families, etc.

Before, all of those regional managers reported to their regional administrator. And that meant a single issue might be interpreted differently by ten different leaders.

Today, the administrators are still responsible for oversight of the offices and big-picture projects between the states and feds. But those divisional leaders report to their corresponding bosses at the federal headquarters in Washington.

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