I have worked for the Department of Social Services nearly 30 years, under a number of state and county directors; Director Lillian Koller’s administration has improved our agency faster and more positively than any before.
The agency always has had goals, but we did not have a tangible way of measuring how well we were doing: Initiatives would be piloted for a year or so, and that was that. Data were collected but not used strategically if at all.
Under Ms. Koller’s leadership, reports go out every Sunday so county leaders immediately can see who is producing and where help is needed. This gives us the tools needed to evaluate employees regularly to make sure they are equipped to meet the needs of the people we serve. We are taught that no one works well unsupervised, and we’re reminded that tools, forms, policies and mandates never replace judgment and critical thinking.
The “problems” that are being reported at the agency are not what I see in the counties on a day-to-day basis.
What I see is an agency that is helping more people get jobs and more families receive support for their children; quality child care has improved with ABC Grow Healthy; and we have bolstered our ability to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults.
In the past, people would call and ask for help with their children, and unless there was abuse or neglect, we were not able to work with them. Now, with Appropriate Response, we can work with the community to prevent children from needing to come into care in the future.
All children deserve a forever family. In the past, children in their teens and some children with special needs were considered “unadoptable” and simply aged out of foster care when they turned 18, expected to live life on their own. We now find permanent families for these and many other waiting children in foster care.
I have worked with a number of county offices as a performance coach — one of the many new positions created by Ms. Koller to get better outcomes. As such, I have seen firsthand how the recent changes benefit our clients. But some are reluctant to change; greater accountability brings greater challenges. We are challenged to take a serious look at everything we do and how we do it, at what works and what doesn’t.
The agency has some of the most dedicated people you will ever meet. Working at DSS is a demanding and stressful job, whether you work at the front window or with children who have been severely beaten or sexually abused.
I am proud of the direction the agency is headed. I encourage you to look at the positive outcomes and not at the word on the street. DSS is not perfect. But we are working hard every day at becoming better.