by John Kelly
The Obama administration may not appoint new heads for the bureaus that oversee child welfare and homeless youth at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the federal agency that oversees most of the spending on disadvantaged youth from the Department of Health and Human Services, ACF officials acknowledged yesterday.
An internal evaluation of ACF’s organizational structure, which was not announced publicly by the administration, could lead officials to change the structure and responsibilities of political appointee positions underneath ACF’s Senate-confirmed leadership.
The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and the Children’s Bureau have been without permanent leadership since the last years of the George W. Bush administration. FYSB, recently funded at around $350 million, funds programs that serve homeless and runaway youth, children of prisoners and victims of domestic violence. The Children’s Bureau, with a budget of more than $7 billion, is responsible for distributing federal child welfare funds and evaluating state child welfare systems.
“No decision has been made,” said ACF spokesman Kenneth Wolfe, when asked if the agency might forgo a political appointee for FYSB. “They are considering how best to structure the office via an organizational assessment.”
ACF gave no indication of when a decision might be made.
ACF’s organizational chart is daunting in its complexity. It is led by Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Carmen Nazario, and one of the Senate-confirmed appointees who reports to her, Bryan Samuels, serves as Commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF).
Advocates for homeless and runaway youth fear that a decision to leave FYSB without a presidentially appointed leader would lower the national profile of the cause, at a time when shelters and transitional living programs for homeless youth are shutting down or turning record numbers of youths away because they are filled to capacity.
“I guess my comment would be a concern that the programs for kids under FYSB may not get as much attention as the child welfare side of ACF—due to size and scope,” National Network for Youth CEO Vicki Wagner said in an e-mail.
FYSB is currently overseen by Acting Associate Commissioner Debbie Powell, and the Children’s Bureau is led by Acting Associate Commissioner Joe Bock. The last presidentially appointed associate commissioner of FYSB was Karen Morison, who led the bureau for a brief time in 2007 after Harry Wilson ran it during most of the Bush presidency.
Wilson said that political appointees to the bureaus may not be as necessary in the Obama administration as they were during the Bush tenure. The main advantage of political appointees in those jobs, he said, is to foster collaboration with other areas of the Department of Health and Human Services and with other departments such as Education and Justice.
“In this administration, cross-collaboration seems to be the watchword, so there may be less of a need” for political appointees at the bureaus,” Wilson said. “In my estimation [collaboration] is already happening.”
Several candidates have emerged to run FYSB since Nazario was confirmed. The list includes Esta Soler, president of the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund; Deborah Shore, founder and executive director of Sasha Bruce Youthwork in Washington, D.C.; and Marlana Valdez, director of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit for the Maryland Attorney General’s office.