Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, will retire at the end of the year following a nearly 30-year career with the organization.
“For me, it was just time for something new,” Mecca told Youth Services Insider on Monday. Mecca said he plans to take some time off before figuring out how he will continue fighting for how to best serve vulnerable children and families, “which remain my life’s passions.”
The organization’s board is expected to name Mecca’s successor this week.
A nonprofit representing the human service directors from California’s 58 counties, the County Welfare Directors Association plays an important role in advocating for the state’s safety-net programs in the budget and before the Legislature.
During his lengthy tenure, Mecca has been at the forefront of major statewide initiatives, including a welfare overhaul, an end to group homes and expanded benefits for relative caregivers.
“Serving people living in poverty throughout California has positively evolved over the last 30 years. Those in need of food assistance, children who are abused or neglected and adults that need state protection have been elevated and served because of the hard work of many, but none have played a more critical role than Frank Mecca of the County Welfare Directors Association,” state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D) said in a statement.
Mecca started as the executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association at age 26 after a stint at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, where he was responsible for California’s child welfare programs. He describes his advocacy work on behalf of family members who take in foster children as among his proudest accomplishments.
As a key part of the state’s Continuum of Care Reform, California now offers the same level of financial support to kin caregivers as to unrelated foster parents, building on other laws that establish a preference to keep foster children in the care of relatives whenever possible.
“We decided as a state to create policies to really support those relatives in ways that many states don’t,” Mecca said.
Mecca said he is proud to have played a part in the ways California has led the nation, including a dramatic drop in the use of institutional care to raise kids who have been removed from their parents. The number of foster children living in group care settings is less than half of what it was 15 years ago, and the state is now supposed to reserve congregate care for situations when it is deemed medically necessary.
He also hailed the state’s work to extend foster care benefits to youth ages 18 through 21.
Beyond child welfare, Mecca played a big hand in developing the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), the state’s version of the federal welfare-to-work reform of 1996. In recent years, the state has continued to expand anti-poverty programs, such as the earned income tax credit and young child tax credit, part of an effort to shift billions of dollars to the state’s poorest families.
“We have safety nets that other states don’t have,” Mecca said, pointing to why he remained so committed to California.
But the longtime human services leader said that these programs need constant advocacy, especially during recessions, when strained budgets often result in slashed benefits.
“These are constant works in progress,” he said. “While we’re certainly proud of some of the historic successes we’ve had and the improvements we’ve made, we can’t stop working hard to create opportunities so that children are not living in poverty and families have a chance to live with dignity.”