by Elizabeth Gibbons
Elizabeth Darling Nomination
President Donald Trump has nominated the president and chief executive of the Texas-based OneStar Foundation, Elizabeth Darling, to be the new commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It could take weeks or months for a nominee to be officially appointed, and Darling will remain in Texas while she waits for her hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Darling was the chief operating officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (2005-2009), where she oversaw and managed CNCS’ national programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. She was also founding director of the Center of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the HHS in 2001, where she worked to identify and remove barriers that prevented faith-based groups’ access to federal funds. Darling has worked across all four bureaus of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families under George W. Bush: Head Start, Children’s Bureau, Child Care, and Family and Youth Services. While there, she implemented the Bush initiative “Good Start, Grow Smart.” Darling, if appointed, will oversee the implementation of the Families First Act on the federal level.
Maine’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability currently is investigating the state’s Child Protective Services division after lack of response led to the death of a 10-year-old girl—which is not the only recent abuse-related child death in the state. Concerns about Maine’s CPS cover an array of areas, from effectiveness of investigations to staffing shortages. The probe will also look at how the department intervenes with families, how likely they are to remove children, and how bias affects their investigations. Another issue—and a contributing factor in some of the children’s deaths—is lack of communication between regional offices, allowing families under investigation to slip between the cracks if they move. This investigation is just beginning, but hopefully it will bring about some much-needed changes and will yield a more effective child welfare system that can protect Maine’s most vulnerable.
The Allegheny County Department of Children, Youth, and Families has added a new automated system to their screening process that combs through all public records in a matter of seconds, providing child welfare workers with immediate and up-to-date information, making initial screenings more effective, and closing the gaps that allow abuse cases to remain uninvestigated.
This system is controversial as some have argued that it perpetuates biases already rooted child welfare screening. Child welfare workers in Allegheny County have noticed this for years, saying that the majority of families seen by workers are African American, despite African Americans making up only one fifth of the population. The automated system is the most recent attempt to track data and educate caseworkers and the juvenile court about structural bias. There have already been noted improvements: The disparity between how often black and white children are removed from their homes improved by 28 percent and the disparity between which investigated families are referred to child protective service improved by 33 percent. This automated system is by no means perfect, but it is a step toward ensuring that all families are treated fairly.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.