Transition Team Considers Powers of New Child Welfare Czar

On Monday, July 28, debate about the qualities and powers of a leader for Los Angeles County’s new Office of Child Protection dominated discussions for the “transition team” charged with leading the county’s child welfare reform efforts.

After the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors signed off on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission in June, it authorized a transition team to guide the creation of a new Office of Child Protection and prioritize the implementation of the commission’s recommendations. The team is expected to make monthly presentations to the Board of Supervisors about its progress, including its first report next Tuesday, August 5.

The issue that has been most important to the nine-member team is selecting a director to lead the forthcoming Office of Child Protection, a topic that on Monday elicited conversations about the role of the director and the powers he or she will wield in a county where departments and agencies do not always share the same mission for child protection.

“We have the potential of losing good people who would never come out here to interview if they don’t know [details about the job],” said Patricia Curry during Monday’s meeting. Curry is a transition team member who also serves on Los Angeles County’s Commission on Children and Families. “Is this a coordinating job? Do I have any authority? Am I oversight? Any good candidate’s going to ask those questions, and I don’t want to lose potentially good candidates by not having good answers for them.”

The transition team took input from Mark Oppenheim, the leader of a San Francisco-based nonprofit executive recruitment firm that is leading the search for the director. Oppenheim and his team are expected to draft the job description for the director of the Office of Child Protection based on the team’s comments before the transition team reports back to the Board of Supervisors on August 5.

Questions remain about whether the new position will include the authority to oversee change across various county departments and not merely accept responsibility when tragedy occurs. But Dr. David Sanders, the former director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and current executive vice president of systems improvement for Casey Family Programs, said that despite the daunting challenges, the job description for the new director should reflect excitement about a rare opportunity to change the trajectory of child welfare efforts in the county.

“It seems to me that the Blue Ribbon Commission saw this as a potentially transformative position,” Sanders said during Monday’s meeting. “This is coming into the largest system in the country and actually being able to accomplish something. I think people are going to be drawn to an opportunity that has never existed before.”

In addition to including a preliminary description of the director of the Office of Child Protection position in its report to the Board of Supervisors on August 5, the transition team will also urge the Board of Supervisors to allow it to help interview qualified candidates as part of the screening process. The transition team also plans to clarify how it will begin to prioritize and implement the Blue Ribbon Commission Report’s recommendations as well as the structure of the monthly reports to the board.

The next meeting of the transition team is scheduled for Friday, August 22.

Jeremy Loudenback is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

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