Case #1702.0

Uniting Welfare and Child Welfare: The El Paso County Department of Human Services (B)

Publication Date: July 1, 2003
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When he takes the reins of the El Paso County, Colorado, Department of Human Services (DHS) in 1997, David Berns has ambitious goals for the department's struggling child welfare services division. He must deal both with a rising caseload of children placed in foster care and with new federal and state mandates that shorten the time frames in which cases of foster care children must be resolved, either through reunification with their families or through adoption. At the same time, Berns intends to do more than improve the performance of the division: he aims to transform the way services are delivered to children and their families by reframing the mission of child welfare services and of DHS as a whole. This pair of cases looks at Berns' efforts from two somewhat different angles. The first case describes his efforts to "redefine" the problem of abused and neglected children by placing it within the context of the problems associated with poverty and thereby to combine funds the county received to help low-income families with those earmarked for child welfare cases. The new director's efforts to institute innovative policies, however, must take place within legal constraints imposed by the courts, which have oversight of cases in which children are placed outside the home. The second case takes a closer look at relations between the courts and the department. Like DHS, the courts are operating under new statutory time frames aimed at achieving "permanency" for children in foster care more quickly. Berns must reconcile his efforts to experiment with the delivery of child welfare services with legal norms which courts are charged with enforcing. Although DHS and the courts share the same ultimate goal of providing safe, permanent homes for their young and vulnerable charges, their paths to that end at times diverge, creating tensions and frustrations. 

Learning Objective:
These cases are meant to serve as vehicles for discussing the complexities of innovation in a public sector context. They include descriptions of innovative uses of various "categorical" funding streams, as well as the challenges of restructuring an organization to carry out a newly reframed mission. They also examine the difficulties of reshaping a program in which other institutions in particular, the courts also play a prominent role.

Other Details

Case Author:
Esther Scott
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service