A bill to change the requirements to lead the state Department of Children, Youth and Families ran into opposition from social workers during a House Education and Welfare Committee meeting Wednesday evening. The two sides also disputed the reason for persistent budgetary overruns at DCYF
Six social workers argued that expertise in protecting children is vital for the next head of DCYF. A bill under consideration by the House Education and Welfare Committee would eliminate a requirement that the director have a master’s in social work (or a closely related field).
Jamia McDonald, appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo last week to a post in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, is expected to become the next head of DCYF. The sponsor of the bill to remove the MSW requirement, committee chairman Joseph McNamara (D-Warwick), denies the legislation is meant to smooth the way for McDonald to lead the agency.
"No," he said. "It’s intended to give the governor discretion to get an administrator in there that can eliminate these deficits and make sure that we have an administrator who can project a budget based on the funding that’s available."
The Raimondo administration decided not to retain DCYF's most recent director, Janice DeFrances.
McNamara shared with committee members a single-page explanation of "DCYF expenditure trends" prepared by House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland.
According to the document, DCYF overspent general revenue appropriations by $2.5 million in fiscal 2014; $1.8 million in fiscal 2012; $3.2 million in fiscal 2011; and $500,000 in fiscal 2010. "As the above information suggests, the Department has consistent difficulty projecting and managing its costs," Reynolds Ferland wrote.
But Lucie Burdick, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 580, who was among the opponents of removing the MSW requirement, said DCYF has been consistently underfunded by the legislature. She said it's important for the next DCYF head to understand social work and protecting children.
"Until you’re in that type of job, you don’t understand how complicated these areas can be, how gray the areas can be, why we require so much work,” Burdick said.
The Education and Welfare Committee is expected to vote on the bill later this session.