JooYeun Chang, Child Welfare Leader for Obama Administration, Now Heading Up Michigan’s System

JooYeun Chang, new head of child welfare for Michigan. Photo: U.S. Administration for Children and Families

JooYeun Chang, a veteran of child welfare policy and practice, is now the senior deputy director in charge of the Children’s Services Agency at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Chang joined the agency, which is led by Robert Gordon, in late May.

“With JooYeun’s deep knowledge of what works, her diverse experiences, and her passionate commitment, we can help many more children achieve safety, gain permanency, and ultimately realize their potential,” Gordon said, in a statement announcing her hiring.

Chang got her start in child welfare policy as a staff attorney at the Children’s Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in the 1970s by Marian Wright Edelman. Chang was then brought on by the Seattle-based grant maker Casey Family Programs, which is focused on reducing the number of youth in America who come into foster care, as its senior director of public policy.

In 2013, Chang left Casey to join the Obama administration as its associate commission for the Children’s Bureau, the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that administers most federal funds for child welfare. The bureau oversees Title IV-E, the central entitlement program for federal funds to support foster care payments and adoption subsidies, as well as federal spending on family preservation and independent living programs.

Chang left in the final year of the administration, and resumed her role with Casey Family Programs.

“JooYeun Chang is an incredibly talented and committed leader and change agent. I have had the opportunity to work with her in a variety of ways since 2007, and over those 12 years, her commitment to the well-being of all children and families has remained her focus and has never wavered,” said Casey CEO William Bell, in the statement announcing Chang’s new position. “Michigan will benefit greatly from her leadership.”

In Michigan, Chang inherits a state that has been under a court-monitored settlement agreement since 2008, the result of a class-action lawsuit filed against it by Children’s Rights. Last September, an audit of the agency she now leads found it had often failed to complete background checks or conduct proper interviews in the course of investigating maltreatment claims.

Unlike many of its Midwest brethren, Michigan has not seen its foster care totals skyrocket in recent years as the opioid crisis fueled a spike in removals. In fact, according to federal data, Michigan’s foster care total declined from 14,522 to 11,918 between 2012 and 2017.

JooYeun Chang, testifying at a 2014 Senate hearing about child trafficking and re-homing. Photo: Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

The state has indicated its intention to delay implementation on a federal law aimed at keeping more youth out of foster care. The Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in February of 2018, enables states to use the Title IV-E entitlement for certain substance abuse, mental health and parenting services to avoid the removal of children from their parents. The law also puts limits on the use of IV-E funds for the placement of youth in group homes and other congregate care environments.

States have the option of delaying implementation of the law until 2021. As of June, 27 states including Michigan had formally notified the Children’s Bureau of an intention to delay.

Casey Family Programs was a key player in fomenting support for the law, and continues to support efforts to help states move toward implementation of it. Chang was front and center in those efforts, so it will be interesting to see if Michigan now moves more quickly on Family First.

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