Molly Tierney has observed state-supervised, locally administered child welfare systems from two vantage points: as head of a city agency and as Accenture’s Child Welfare Lead in North America.
“This model can be a challenge,” Tierney says. “The state sees things one way and they're right. The counties see things another way and they’re also right.”
In working with the State of Ohio, Tierney observed that Assistant Director of Human Services Kara Wente and her team are excelling at making the model work. Tierney invited Wente to share her insights on engaging with and delivering value to counties. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
Molly Tierney: Kara, I’ve noticed that you’re finding a pathway to partnership with Ohio’s counties. What’s making that possible?
Kara Wente: I think the most important part of any relationship is recognizing your role. Yes, we have to do the job of state supervision. But our role is also to build relationships and offer value to our counties – whether that's interpreting a policy or providing guidance or helping in the workforce space.
For example, while I don't hire for counties, I can provide excellent training to make them feel supported. I can provide some ideas around retention or job sharing. That's some of what we're doing now: striving to alleviate administrative burden for locals because we want them in the field, working with families and kids and making sure they're safe.
We also have two strong county partners in the Ohio Job and Family Service Directors’ Association and the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. We generate a lot of ideas working with those associations and their executive committees.
With these relationships, it's not the state coming up with an idea and pushing it to the county. Instead, we’re talking to them, hearing their needs and saying, “OK, here's what we may be able to do. Help us prioritize.”
MT: What have you noticed about how the counties are responding?
KW: At first, we probably over-engaged and over-communicated. We continue to communicate frequently because we want them to keep hearing the same message. We want them to know that we're not just here to supervise. We're here to support. And we hope that when we do have to supervise, we get good results.
Most importantly, we keep letting them know that we’re willing to try things, evaluate and change course. We have never expected to get it right the first time. We do a lot of phased approaches and pilots as a way of building buy-in, showing ROI and demonstrating that we’re willing to make changes if something doesn’t work.