Two of VACo’s member counties hosted special guests from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, on August 22. Dr. Martha Okafor, Regional Administrator, and Special Initiatives Coordinator Darlene Tart-Scott spent the day meeting with senior human services staff in Hanover County and Chesterfield County, part of Dr. Okafor’s efforts to learn about program innovations at the local level and explore opportunities for her agency to assist localities in the provision of services.
Dr. Okafor and Ms. Tart-Scott kicked off the morning in Hanover County, where Deputy County Administrator Jim Taylor hosted a meeting with leadership of the County’s human services agencies, including the Health Department, Community Services Board, Department of Community Resources, and Department of Social Services. Staff provided an overview of the services offered by their agencies and some of the top issues facing the County. Dr. Okafor and Ms. Tart-Scott then had the opportunity to accompany a parent educator from the Parents as Teachers program on a home visit. This program, a public-private partnership between a local nonprofit, Family Lifeline, and Hanover County, works on an evidence-based model and serves at-risk families with very young children. Participating families are able to build parenting skills and learn about child development in their own homes, and the program has a strong track record of success, with 100 percent of the children served in FY 2018 regularly receiving well-child checks and immunizations, screenings for developmental delays, and connections to early intervention services if necessary.
Chesterfield County hosted Dr. Okafor and Ms. Tart-Scott for the remainder of the day. Deputy County Administrator Sarah Snead coordinated discussions of three major initiatives undertaken by the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services in recent years to meet community needs. Director of Social Services Kiva Rogers discussed her agency’s successful efforts to improve recruitment and retention in the local social services workforce, which is a problem in many social services agencies statewide, as local workers struggle with emotionally difficult situations and high caseloads. The department was able to reduce its turnover rate from 24.7 percent in FY 2016 to 13 percent in FY 2018 through a multifaceted approach that included increasing compensation, engaging and empowering staff in solving problems, providing realistic descriptions of challenges associated with social services work to prospective hires, and providing opportunities for employees to manage the stress and secondary trauma associated with their work.
Assistant Director Danika Briggs moderated a panel of local nonprofit partners and department staff who are working to recruit and support foster families, as well as to support the department’s child welfare workers. Collaboration with the faith community has been a success, as a local congregation, Clover Hill Church, has made foster care part of its ministry and strives to work in partnership with the Department; Janet Kelly of Virginia’s Kids Belong expressed her hope that this type of collaboration could be replicated in other communities. Jackie Cowan discussed the department’s Foster Care Advisory Committee, which provides a venue for community members to become involved in improving the foster care system; the committee is currently focusing on the needs of older youth, support for foster families, and awareness about psychotropic medication prescribing for foster youth. The afternoon concluded with a presentation from Valerie Dunbar-Brooks and Rosa Marshall, who highlighted the agency’s work to expand its employment services offerings to assist all interested residents in improving their ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency.
Throughout the day, Dr. Okafor stressed the importance of local service delivery, noting that although federal agencies provide funding and guidance for the provision of services, problems are solved at the local level. She pledged that the day’s discussions were the beginning, not the end, of a dialogue with localities. VACo was honored to assist with Dr. Okafor’s visit and grateful to our member counties for their hospitality.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle