Allison Blake has been named the director of the Unaccompanied Children’s Program at the Administration for Children and Families Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Blake has worked in the child welfare realm for more than a decade. She spent eight years as commissioner of New Jersey’s child welfare system and did a stint as a senior fellow for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Most recently, she’s been at the head of the Child and Family Agency of Southeast Connecticut, which provides a range of social services including crisis intervention, counseling and family preservation.
“Looking forward to returning to public service and working alongside this committed group of professionals,” Blake wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing the new position.
ORR is responsible for placing minors with U.S. family members, friends or foster homes when they immigrate to the country alone. It has placed more than 600,000 children in the 20 years since its 2003 inception, according to a recent audit of the program.
The number of children served by the program has spiked in recent years, serving nearly 129,000 in the 2022 fiscal year. In addition to tracking down and vetting sponsors for each child in its custody, the unaccompanied children program is responsible for housing and caring for children while they await placement after often arduous journeys and severe trauma, as well as finding foster placements for children who don’t have relatives in the country they can be reunited with.
Blake has served on the board of the U.S. branch of International Social Service, which connects children and families separated by borders with services and resources. She’s been the organization’s board chair for the past year.
Blake’s tenure at the helm of New Jersey’s child welfare system was marked by federal monitoring stemming from a 1999 class-action lawsuit. The Department of Children and Families entered into a settlement agreement in 2003, years before Blake took over, that required working with an expert panel to completely overhaul the system.
Under Blake’s leadership, the department entered into an exit plan agreement in 2017 to work toward closing the case and ending the monitoring. The federal judge who oversaw the case called Blake an “exceptional leader” upon her 2018 departure from the department, and monitor Judith Meltzer said she left the department in a strong position to meet the terms of the agreement, according to local reporting at the time. The state exited court oversight last April.