The director of Oklahoma’s child welfare agency, Deborah Shropshire, is moving up in ranks to head up the state’s entire Department of Human Services. In turn, Shropshire has appointed Tricia Howell to replace her to lead child welfare.
Newly reelected Gov. Kevin Stitt pointed to Shropshire’s “proven track record of success” at the department where she’s served in a leadership role since 2014 – first as a deputy director, then taking over as director in 2019.
“I am appreciative of Dr. Deb’s ongoing work with human services and look forward to seeing how she continues to lead the agency in this new role,” Stitt said in a press release announcing the appointment.
Shropshire, who is the first woman to lead the Department of Human Services, came into child welfare work by way of the medical field. She began her career as a pediatrician, and for 15 years served as the medical director at the former Pauline E. Mayer Children’s Shelter. She went on to help found the Fostering Hope Clinic, which provides trauma-informed medical care and forensic screenings to youth involved with child welfare. She is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
On the Imprint Weekly podcast in November 2021, Shropshire said that what drew her to child welfare was a deep admiration for the frontline workers, and a desire to serve them. She chose to specialize in pediatrics, she said, because it would give her the opportunity to support child welfare staffers in their work with children and families.
Shropshire said that during her tenure as a children’s shelter pediatrician, she saw upwards of 30,000 children – an experience that fueled her drive to design change on a systemic level, something she believes can be accomplished by department leaders.
“This system was developed by people like us who are working in these roles,” she said on the podcast. “It can actually be changed by people like us as well.”
Oklahoma’s foster care population has been steadily shrinking in the time Shropshire has been with the agency, from a high of roughly 11,500 in 2014 to around 7,100 last year, according to data collected by The Imprint.
Shortly after being appointed to her new role, Shropshire installed child welfare veteran Tricia Howell to take over her vacated position at the head of child welfare services.
Howell has been with the department for nearly three decades, eight of those years spent focused on therapeutic foster care. Most recently, she served as assistant director of child welfare operations, where she focused on policy and training.
Howell approaches the job from a mental health background, with a degree in psychology and licensure as a professional counselor.
“We have an incredibly strong, passionate leadership team in place who are all dedicated to working together to carry the agency’s mission forward in service to Oklahoma’s families,” Howell said in a press release.