The Biden administration has begun to fill in some of the key leadership posts that do not require Senate confirmation at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the large division of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees child welfare and many federal assistance programs for low-income families.
The most direct child welfare position without Senate confirmation, associate commissioner of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, remains without a presidential appointee for the moment, with veteran career staffer Joe Bock leading the agency.
Following are some details about new faces at ACF as of this month…
Jennifer Cannistra, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy
Cannistra, like ACF’s new chief of staff Larry Handerhan, comes to the executive branch from Washington, D.C.’s Department of Human Services, where she was a deputy administrator for strategy and performance at the Family Services Administration. Cannistra served the full eight years of the Obama administration, and co-chaired its working group on ending youth homelessness.
Debra Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs
Johnson, a former news reporter in Illinois, crosses the country for this gig, having led communications for the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families, a lively task as the state has come under fire for its lack of adequate foster care options for older youth with high needs. Johnson will also be the political point person for ACF’s slate of 10 regional offices.
Dr. Lanikque Howard, Director in the Office of Community Services
Howard is also an Obama ACF returnee, having worked on policy and initiatives at the office of the assistant secretary (the title of the agency’s leader). Howard spent the past three years with First 5 Alameda County – which uses cigarette tax funds to invest in early childhood services – as its senior program administrator.
Howard will preside over the corner of ACF that oversees the Community Services Block Grant, Social Services Block Grant and several other large state grant programs to help low-income households.
Katie Hamm, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Early Childhood
Hamm comes to the administration from the Center for American Progress, where she was vice president for early childhood policy. Before that she was on the civil staff at the Office of Management and Budget working on human services policy (a portfolio now handled in part by Sherry Lachman, the founder of Foster America).
Dr. Bernardine Futrell, Director, Office of Head Start
Futrell, who was a Head Start participant as a child and became a Head Start teacher, was the senior director for effective practice at the National Head Start Association. She will inherit the national office running the nation’s largest early childhood education program (about 1 million children a year) as it emerges from a pandemic that challenged the ability of its nearly 3,000 programs.