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DSS Announces Appointment of Assistant Secretary of Office of Community Services

Department of Children & Family Services (DSS) Secretary Kristy Nichols today announced that Kaaren Hebert has been appointed assistant secretary of the Office of Community Services (OCS) and will lead the office in implementing recently announced steps to help ensure the safety of children in the state by focusing on safety, technology, training and workforce retention. She has served as interim assistant secretary of OCS since November 2008.

"Kaaren Hebert has a long history of service to the Department of Children & Family Services and to the children and families of Louisiana. Her varied and comprehensive experience both as an administrator and a caseworker are assets to our agency, the Office of Community Services and the State," Nichols said. "She is an exceptional individual who has dedicated her 30 year career to public service, and she is committed to continue her work to ensure that Louisiana families and children are safe, thriving and self-sufficient."

Hebert has 30 years of comprehensive child welfare experience in DSS' Office of Community Services (OCS). Prior to her appointment as interim assistant secretary, Hebert served for three years as deputy assistant secretary of the same office.

Hebert also served as director of both the State Child Welfare Program and the State Adoption Program, and served for 10 years as the regional adoption supervisor for the Lafayette Region. Hebert began her career at DSS by working for 11 years as a child protection investigator and foster care worker in the Lafayette Region.

In 2000, Hebert was a recipient of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Adoption Excellence Award and a Lafayette City Parish Distinguished Citizen's Award. In 2001, she was selected as a National Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in Washington, D.C.

Hebert received a master's degree in social work from Louisiana State University and a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. She holds a graduate social work license from the Louisiana Board of Social Work Examiners.

"Kaaren was instrumental in the development of recently announced steps we are taking to help ensure the safety of children in the state by focusing on safety, technology, training and workforce retention," Nichols said. "She has shown tremendous leadership throughout the planning process, and I know she will continue to be successful as she leads OCS in implementing the steps we are taking to protect Louisiana's children."

In early April, DSS announced plans to maximize existing resources, rely on partnerships with national advocacy groups and use one time federal funds to ensure the safety of all children in the state. As a first step, DSS is working collaboratively with OCS workers, law enforcement, and judicial and community partners to develop and implement a child welfare practice model to serve as the overall guidelines child welfare workers use in ensuring child safety. The model is a family-centered approach that focuses on four principal outcomes: Children are safe; Families are strengthened; Communities are engaged; and Children and youth have permanence.

DSS also is implementing evidence-based Structured Decision Making in child protective cases. Previously, the process, which guides caseworkers through questions and critical risk factors, was utilized by DSS in foster care and family service cases.

Additionally, the department said it is continuing to work to improve the safety of children in out-of-home placements by developing new licensing standards and regulations for child residential facilities.

To address the need for training and staff retention, a major challenge for OCS, DSS announced investments in training and workforce retention that include expanding the Lake Charles peer-to-peer mentoring initiative, coaching and mentoring of field supervisors and on-line training for critical skills such as court preparation and structured decision making.

Statewide, 16 percent of all OCS staff that work directly with clients on the frontline have been on the job for less than one year, with six years being the average amount of experience among all frontline staff. For Fiscal Year 2008 alone, more than 16 percent of child welfare workers left OCS.

DSS is receiving assistance from the Children's Research Center (CRC), a national nonprofit that assists child welfare agencies reduce child abuse and neglect and improve service delivery to children and families by focusing on four areas -- safety, risk, assessment of family functioning and case planning. CRC is working to train OCS workers to use proven evidence-based tools to aid in critical decision making and in moving families toward a safer level of functioning. These tools help caseworkers assess whether a family is ready for reunification or if reunification should continue to be the case goal.

DSS is also working with Dr. Gary Mallon, of the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice, in developing a Child Welfare Training Partnership with Louisiana universities to provide common undergraduate and graduate child welfare curricula to provide students the opportunity to specialize and develop child welfare expertise.

Other investments include new technology, secure laptops for caseworkers, electronic case records, Safe Measure performance-based management software and a centralized intake for child protection investigations.