Just a week into his new position, Wyoming Department of Families Services Director Tom Forslund, the new director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS), signed himself up for a year and a half of overseeing not one, but two state-level departments in the country’s most rural state.
Forslund, director of the Wyoming Department of Health for more than six years, was recently appointed by Gov. Matt Mead (R) to replace former DFS Director Steve Corsi, who had been in the position for six years and left to become acting director of Missouri’s Department of Social Services.
“There are 18 months left in the term of the governor, so I’ve been tasked with overseeing the Department of Family Services for that length of time,” Forslund said. “I would guess as his term winds down and directors move into other positions, it becomes difficult to find people for those positions at the end of his tenure.”
The Department of Health currently has four operating divisions: Aging, Behavioral Health, Health Care Financing and Public Health. DFS becomes the fifth division for the next 18 months, and possibly indefinitely after Forslund and his team have the opportunity to determine if it makes sense to fold Family Services into Department of Health permanently.
That set-up would be similar to other states in the region, including Montana, Idaho and Nebraska, Forslund said, and would also be a return to similar operations that Wyoming had in place until the 1990s.
“What we need to do is look at Family Services and the operations and activities that the department oversees, and see if there’s overlap and ways to gain efficiencies,” Forslund said. “At this point in time, I’m not ready to say if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. We will be looking at the operations and metrics to determine how they compare internally and to other states across the country.”
As he gets started in that process, Forslund has appointed Korin Schmidt as interim administrator for DFS. Schmidt has served in the Department of Health since 2012 as deputy director and deputy administrator.
“We have set up Department of Health in a corporate model where you have operating functions,” Forslund said. “We’ll be working together through the different agency departments.”
With both departments offering social services supports, and often times to the same individuals, it also makes sense to explore combining the two departments as well, Forslund said.
“Family Services takes a child into state custody and Department of Health provides health services to the child,” Forslund said. “Over the years, Department of Health has had very good relations with DFS.”
As the former city manager of Casper, the state’s second largest city, for more than two decades, Forslund has come in contact with DFS in the past, but has never worked directly within the organization.
“We dealt with a lot of issues related to families and generally it was through law enforcement,” Forslund said. “Sometimes we were happy with the outcomes and sometimes we weren’t as happy with outcomes, which is pretty typical.”
As he now oversees the lives of more than 1,000 foster children, Forslund said he’s taking this new position seriously and hoping to maintain quality services to those children and improve outcomes wherever possible.
“I can tell you, I want the state to play a role to produce better outcomes for children in need in the state,” Forslund said. “How can the state government in its proper role help to do that? It’s the focus I’ll be going with going into this job.”
Since reaching a low of 882 children in care in 2011, the state’s numbers have slowly crept above 1,000, which also coincided with a steady increase of population growth as the state’s oil economy boomed through 2015. During the same timeframe the state has made inroads in reducing the number of children waiting to be adopted from 225 in 2010 to just 82 in 2014, according to AFCARS data.
Now, as the state’s economy struggles with the decrease in coal, gas and oil economic drivers, finding funding for all of the state’s services is a challenge. When it comes to health and child protective services, the most challenging cost is providing services in rural areas of the state.
“The state has the smallest population in the country and is the tenth largest state in terms of area,” Forslund said. “We’re known as a frontier health care area. We live in the wide open spaces. We love it, but it does present challenges – health care is one of them and Family Services is one of them.”