The often-criticized Division of Child and Family Services will get new leadership Monday — division director Ken Patterson was removed from his job Friday, although he may be reassigned to another position.
The announcement was made to staff via e-mail Friday by Department of Human Services Executive Director Robin Arnold-Williams, who said Patterson had made "significant progress" as director.
"Ken is one of the best people I know in terms of dreaming and visioning and mapping out a route in terms of where (the division) needs to go," Arnold-Williams told the Deseret News. "But at some point in anything like this you need a different set of management and leadership skills to get in and make things happen."
DCFS Deputy Director Richard Anderson will assume Patterson's duties while the department launches a national search for a new director, Arnold-Williams said. Patterson has asked Arnold-Williams to consider reassigning him to another position within the division.
The request is being considered but likely would be a "short-term project" position, if it happens at all, Arnold-Williams said.
Patterson was hired to run DCFS in September 1997, after stints in the child welfare systems of Nevada and Idaho. Under his direction, the division instituted a number of changes, including an overall philosophical shift in the way DCFS does business, changes in new training and skill development for employees, a new computer database for tracking cases and some administrative shuffling to improve efficiencies and trim the budget. Much of the change came in the wake of the 1994 David C. vs. Leavitt lawsuit.
Reviews of the division by a national child welfare watch group indicate that services have improved as a result of the changes. Still, the division has been repeatedly criticized by parent and advocacy groups for its practices in the areas of child removal, foster-care placement and inconsistent practices in post-adoption practices. Budget management has also been an issue. Last year, fiscal analysts projected a $10 million shortfall, some of which was attributed to a lack of fiscal oversight.
Arnold-Williams said the criticisms were "one of many" factors in a decision which was several months in the making and included input from stakeholders in the system and with the governor's transition team.
DCFS Board Chairwoman Becky Oakley said the board was briefed at its February meeting about the possible change in leadership.
"I know that (Arnold-Williams) had input from nearly every source out there. The board has confidence in whatever indicators were there for her," she said. "It's not an off-the-cuff thing."
Contacted at his home Friday afternoon, Patterson said he didn't want to comment on his dismissal, other than to say that he was proud of the job done that DCFS staffers do each day.
"It's been a really challenging job for me," Patterson said. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished."