The former leader of one of the nation’s largest local child welfare systems has taken a senior-level post at one of the most influential child welfare philanthropies.
David Hansell joined the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs Monday in the position of senior advisor for child welfare policy, he confirmed in an interview. Hansell — who stepped down as the commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services in late December — said he will be working with Casey’s “strategic consultants” and local government partners across the country, and its public policy office in Washington, D.C.
The goal, he said, would be to help “create a policy environment” at the state and federal levels in line with Casey’s priorities, including its longtime goal of “safely reducing the need for foster care” by 50 percent. Despite the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, Casey’s broader, long-term vision remains the same, including a “focus on reducing foster care and congregate care, making sure every child has a permanent home, and making sure all service systems are aligned around child well being.”
He also said he looks forward to applying his experience from New York City: That included an emphasis on early-stage or “primary” prevention of child abuse and neglect, promoting racial equity, and involving those with lived experience in the child welfare system in program planning and implementation.
“I’ve seen how policies at different levels of government can be well aligned at times and poorly aligned at times, and how important it is to have good alignment to allow the folks doing the program work on the ground to pursue the genuine child welfare reform that Casey’s interested in,” said Hansell, who was appointed to Children’s Services by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017.
Asked how he and Casey envision increasing federal support for early-stage interventions for families — such as a family enrichment centers pilot program Hansell helped expand in New York City — he said part of his task will be to figure that out with Casey and its partners in the nation’s capital and in the states.
“I don’t know the answer, honestly,” he said. “I think we know what the goal is, I’m not sure we know what the mechanism is yet.”
Hansell will remain in New York City in his newly created role with the group, but will be barred from working directly with his former Children’s Services colleagues for one year under the city’s conflict of interest rules.
Casey Family Programs was founded in 1966 and spent $111 million of its $2.4 billion in assets in 2019, according to the nonprofit’s website, “in pursuit of our vision of safely reducing the need for foster care and building Communities of Hope for all of America’s children and families.” $40 million of that was allotted to “assist public child welfare agencies,” $27 million in direct service to children and families, $8 million to “inform and educate policymakers and the public” and $6 million to “provide Indian child welfare services.” A spokesperson for Casey confirmed that its investment areas have “not shifted dramatically” since 2019.
Before Children’s Services, Hansell worked as a managing director for the global consulting firm KPMG, and served for two years in the federal Administration for Children and Families during the Obama administration. At Children’s Services, he helped prepare the city for implementation of a recent federal reform law, the Family First Prevention Services Act, which opened up more federal spending for foster care prevention services. The rate of youth leaving New York City’s foster system as young adults with either verified income or high school completion also increased during Hansell’s tenure. Overall, the city’s foster care census continued its decades-long decline, from more than 40,000 in the 1990s to around 7,100 in December.
Hansell’s leadership of Children’s Services also coincided with several historic crises: The global COVID-19 pandemic devastated already vulnerable New York City communities, and the child welfare workforce he oversaw. The summer of 2020 saw massive citywide and nationwide protests over racism in policing; the growth of a parallel movement concerned with racism in the city’s child welfare system prompted tense policy conversations and debates between his agency, advocates and lawmakers.
In addition to working with Casey’s state-based teams and local government leaders, Hansell said his role will involve serving as a liaison to the federal executive branch, including the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Administration for Children and Families, and “potentially other parts of the federal government that have an impact on child welfare and children’s well being.”
Casey has built notable ties with the Children’s Bureau in recent years, which is responsible for roughly $10 billion in taxpayer funding for child welfare each year. In September of 2020, Casey and the Children’s Bureau, along with Prevent Child Abuse America and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, launched an ongoing initiative called “Thriving Families, Safer Children.” Its goal is to help select local systems “move from traditional, reactive child protection systems to those designed to support child and family well-being and prevent child maltreatment and unnecessary family separations.”
One of Hansell’s former senior advisors in New York City’s child welfare agency, Aysha Schomburg, left last March to join the Biden administration as the leader of the federal Children’s Bureau. In June, The Imprint reported that Casey would also be supporting a new senior advisor position under Schomburg.