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Government and People
Testimony of Yvonne Gilchrist
Nominee for Appointment as Director of Human Services, District of Columbia
Good morning Chairperson Allen and members of the Committee on Human Services. I am Yvonne Gilchrist, Acting Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS). It is a privilege and honor to come before you today as you consider my confirmation.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank City Administrator John Koskinen and Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham for recommending me to Mayor Williams for this position.
I am grateful to Mayor Anthony Williams for extending to me the invitation to join his team. The Mayor's vision for families, children, and vulnerable adults should certainly be commended.
For the past three months, I have been involved in many of the Mayor's initiatives that focus on strengthening families, supporting vulnerable adults, and building communities. They have been excellent examples of a city coming together to improve the quality of life for its citizens.
I have met with all of the Council's Human Services Committee members, and I would like to thank you for meeting with me and offering your support of the DHS and the major issues we must handle.
As Director of the DHS, I have the opportunity to effect change that will positively impact on improving the quality of life for citizens of the District of Columbia. I am looking forward to working collaboratively with you to refine the human services system and to expand the capacity of the agency to deliver quality services.
I would like to share with you my vision, goals, and management philosophy. I am a committed human service professional and have dedicated my entire career to improving the lives of those less fortunate. As Director of DHS, I will keep two things foremost in my plans: serving the customers of the District and enhancing the services that we provide to them.
The question I will constantly ask myself and my staff is, "Are we doing a good enough job that, if we or a family member were in need, we would seek out help from DHS?" The answer must emphatically be "Yes," and it must be based on the fact that DHS provides quality services. Anything less requires immediate attention and improvement.
I will strive to make the department one of the best human service agencies in the country. I have many ideas and a vision that will focus the department on building strong families and helping adults to sustain themselves. These actions will inevitably lead to sound, stable families and safe, vital, and viable communities.
I believe that families are the genesis of a community's survival. If we empower them by providing supportive services, we can have an impact on reducing the number of dysfunctional families and children. To do this requires a commitment from other human service agencies to focus on the same goal of family stability. They must provide the resources necessary to help families survive in an economy that is fluctuating and uncertain. Thus, partnerships will be forged with these agencies and common goals will be identified and established.
I strongly believe in continuous performance improvement. Quality service is an absolute necessity, and we should always be prepared to change and improve. For any agency to maintain a high level of service delivery, there must be continuous review. I plan to develop the capacity of staff to do their best. This will be accomplished by refining the accountability systems that measure and track how well we are doing. This process will include customer and stakeholder feedback because the customer is why we exist.
It is my responsibility to develop the vision with staff and to lead and guide them in the process of performance-based management. I also adhere to the principles of strategic management, which focus on outcomes and performance indicators. The ultimate goal is to improve services to our customers in order to make their lives better.
Everyday, we are confronted with people seeking our help. In many cases, they come to us out of desperation and from desperate situations. We must be ready to help them in the best possible way. While a mistake to us is an administrative issue, it is much more to our customers. To them, it could mean the loss of financial support or insufficient child care, food, housing, or other basic necessities.
Some of my first tasks have been to assess our agency, to begin to build on its strengths, and to implement model programs and best practices in areas where improvements are needed.
Therefore, a primary job has been to begin to review and refine the performance measurements and outcomes for our service programs. This will be accomplished by using community and customer qualitative assessments.
DHS must be positioned to provide optimal services to its customers in a professional and courteous manner.
In the few months that I have been Acting Director, I have experienced the challenges that DHS faces each day. Specifically, it is an agency with two consent decrees, one in the Youth Services Administration (YSA) and one in the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration (MRDDA). Much of my agenda will focus on having these consent decrees lifted. I have already begun reviewing the two consent decrees and taking steps to address the issues that they present.
In youth services, I have initiated the planning to implement a family focused model of care for our youth. Emphasis must be placed on both the front and back ends of the service continuum. That is, more must be done to prevent youth from entering the system at the front end, and we must provide the services that will help the youth to transition back to the community. These goals will be accomplished through strategic partnerships with child serving agencies, the courts, the community, and faith based organizations.
I believe that we cannot just singularly focus on the youth. We must use sound social work practice that dictates that we address the entire family. So in that respect, we will be using the family reunification model for those youth who are close to exiting the juvenile justice system. Families should be prepared for the return of their child. This will involve a multitude of wraparound, services for both the family and the youth.
I will initiate the Juvenile Justice Implementation Task Force, which will be the impetus for putting into action many of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Juvenile Justice.
These recommendations address several important areas in the juvenile justice arena such as treatment, support services, detention and diversion. In order to reduce the number of youth who enter the juvenile justice system, an assessment method that reviews the needs of youth while they are in other systems, such as schools, must be implemented. The schools and other appropriate agencies will be targeted for diversion activities.
Many efforts have already begun in MRDDA to transition out of the consent decree. I will build on the successes by enhancing their automated system, improving their tracking capability, and transitioning best practice models to areas that require improvement.
Much of our work and service in MRDDA relies on partnerships with provider organizations. As Director, I will expand the partnerships and use an aggressive monitoring process to review provider operations. Our foremost goals are and always will be the protection and safety of our customers.
In order to achieve many of the goals discussed, I will need resources such as more staff and additional funding. While I recognize that we must first use the funds that we have in an efficient and economical manner, there are never enough fiscal resources to meet the growing demands and needs of the District's most vulnerable citizens.
Many of our programs have received funding cuts and others have not been funded. Programs such as homeless services, child care, income maintenance, and rehabilitation services will be analyzed and, if necessary, reengineered using existing funds. Also, we will compete for grants. As a result, we should be able to serve some additional customers.
To further our goal of increasing funding, I will work collaboratively with the Mayor's Office to enhance federal revenue. I am currently researching what other jurisdictions and states are doing to maximize federal revenue in the areas of child care, juvenile justice, and family support services. Where applicable and feasible, we will employ those best practices in designated programs.
The council has asked that I address the issues that were cited in an article in the June 9, 2003 Washington Times newspaper. I have included responses to three of these issues in section 6 of the binder.
The fourth issue was related to the death of a child, Ciara Jobes. Since this case is in litigation, I cannot discuss it at this time. However, in section 6, I did include a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun newspaper from the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR). The letter correctly states that Ciara Jobes was not in the custody of the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) at the time of her death. I must add here and emphasize strongly that any death, especially that of a child, is a tragedy. Occurrences like this certainly dictate that we carefully and critically examine our system to identify the gaps so that future deaths can be prevented.
I have also included, in section 4 of the binder, several support letters from colleagues who can vouch for my ability to do a good job. In addition, there is a letter from the Maryland Attorney General's Office citing BCDSS for having a model program for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) training for staff as cited by the United States Office of Civil Rights.
Last, but certainly not least, I have included documentation regarding BCDSS's performance scores and one of my greatest accomplishments, the increase in adoptions. Over the last three years, the increase in adoptions for BCDSS went from 125 yearly to over 600 a year. There is a newspaper article in section 4 citing this achievement and recognizing that BCDSS improved adoptions by 300%.
In closing, I pledge to be fully committed to DHS and to build the capacity for staff to continuously improve. As a leader and director, you will find that I am comprehensive and that I will do my best to serve all of the customers of DHS, both internal and external. I will expect no less than the best from my staff also.
I will ensure that staff is provided with the tools and resources necessary to do a "world class" job. Our customers deserve nothing but the best. When government provides excellent service, everybody wins.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my vision and goals. I am hopeful that the strong partnership that is developed with the Council will result in your support for our efforts to continuously improve. I look forward to working with you to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of the District. Together we will build strong families and safe, stable communities.
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