EMPLOYEE APPRECIATION CEREMONY
August 16, 2019
There were two young service man that enlisted in the Australian Navy. After many months at sea, they finally received a pass to spend the night in town when they docked at port. Naturally, the young men had too much to drink and were stumbling around trying to find their way back to the ship, when they bumped into a man in a decorated uniform, obviously a very high ranking officer. Young man, do you know who I am; shouted the officer. The young men looked at each other and one said; this is just great-we don’t know where we are and he doesn't know who he is.
In the three years since I have accepted the position of Executive Director of Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults, it has felt that way at times. I have worked hard to tell the story of HCPS, make judgement calls, balance personalities, needs and goals and frankly try to be a little less stupid every day. I have good days and bad days. This is OK. Jamie Smirnoff, the founder of Ring said “I hope I have bad days. That means you’re fighting and going forward. It’s like when you’re skiing: if you don’t fall that means you’re not challenging yourself. You don’t want those falls to kill you, but you still want to fall.”
I assumed the position of Executive Director with the vision of moving an agency with a lot of strengths and potential forward. This strong, potential filled agency had its share of internal turmoil just under the surface and was stagnate to unlocking that potential; stifling its ability to achieve new heights. Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, said that leadership is learning to balance (and hold) the audacity to dream a different world with the humility to start with the world as it is. Leadership is about defining reality and inspiring hope. I found many people at all levels of this agency standing ready with me to start the journey forward. They had the courage to look at things with honesty, communicate with transparency, and encourage me to continue to move forward into the changes needed to unlock new potential.
The position of Executive Director of Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults is a complex position. The position serves as the Department Head with fiduciary responsibility to Harris County Commissioner’s Court and the appointed Harris County Child Welfare Board. The Director also relates to two non-profit boards (The BEAR Board and the HAY Center Foundation) for two public-private arrangements for services to children and youth that the County cannot completely fund on its own. Additionally the Director also relates to the Harris County Protective Services Foundation that raises funds to support the Department. The Department has over 350 staff to support 19 program areas serving young children and families through aged and disabled adults. Each program has a unique set of services with output and outcome measures. The duties of the Executive Director, and the duties of other leaders and staff within the agency can be daunting. Vision and core values must guide us as we proceed to bring improvements.
I am proud of what we as “Team HCPS” have accomplished over the past three years. I would like to celebrate the achievements of all of you who came together to accomplish so much.
- We were awarded the Center of Excellence Designation from Superior Health Plan for our Clinic to provide integrated physical and behavioral health care for children in child protective services.
- We launched the Senior Justice Assessment Center, the first of its kind in Texas and one of only a few across the country to address restoration and prosecution for victims of elder abuse and exploitation.
- We implemented the care coordination for the Model of Care for female child victims of sex trafficking with the Governor’s Office.
- We initiated the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program at Attucks Middle School with the Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the City of Houston, My Brother’s Keeper Program and Houston ReVision.
- We implemented TBRI, a Trauma Informed Care model, in the Shelter and hope to expand this throughout the Agency over time.
- We expanded the Nurturing Parent Evidenced Based Home Visiting Program for families with children ages 0-5 in the Family Based Safety Services Stage of Service and are providing it at the Reed Road Housing Program with New Hope Housing.
- We expanded the Bridge Housing and Transition Coach Programs for young adults exiting the state foster care system. We are now working with the Harris County Housing Authority, Harris County Community Services Department and the HAY Center Foundation on the possibility of a HAY Center campus.
- BEAR is launching the HEART Gallery for Harris County. This is a proven model for helping to find permanent loving homes for children who have been in the system.
This is real stuff! We are doing important, essential, life altering things in the community. We are impacting lives, changing lives day in and day out. When I accepted the position of Executive Director, many of the things just listed were only visions and ideas. You allowed me to set the vision and with the Executive team begin to chart the course. But the destination to reality and existence could not be reached without you. When released to create, so many of you stepped up and made ideas become reality. Herb Kelleher , the late CEO of Southwest Airlines, often said that “Power is for weightlifting and boats, leadership is about responsibilities.” It is my responsibility to create an environment where these excellent contributions can take place. Thank you all for adapting to the environment of excellence and executing great things. Here are a few more great things that we have made real.
- We have developed and implemented the HEART Values as a framework to guide our work and our interactions with our clients, stakeholders and each other.
- We have revamped the Board and committee process to engage the Board more in our work. Whereas we experienced a revolving door of board members leaving and new Board members coming on year to year, the board has been stable in that only two members have left within the last 3 years.
- We created the leadership position of Organizational Development and Strategic Initiatives to guide us in planning forward and to identify and address efficiencies within the Agency.
- We have identified, developed and staffed new levels of leadership in critical support areas of IT, Operations and Human Resources.
- We passed our COA reaccreditation with high scores in every area.
- The ten year anniversary of the Diane Bynum Administrative Support Conference was the best attended ever. We continue to keep our commitment of providing quality training for our Administrative Support staff as well for our partners.
Of all of these accomplishments; I want to talk today about the newest one that I am extremely proud of. One year ago our Board approved the 2018-2020 Strategic Plan for HCPS. This strategic plan is different than others that preceded it. This Plan was designed with input from many people including staff, board, stakeholders, family partners and youth on board. It truly reflects our agreements on the future condition of HCPS. I had two conditions for a Strategic Plan: 1). The plan addresses the agency as a whole. Past plans have focused on individual programs or Divisions as if we were a system of agencies and not one agency. 2). the plan must be fully implemented. Early on in my tenure as Executive Director, I asked my colleagues, Judge John Specia, former Commissioner of DFPS and Katie Olse, Executive Director of the Texas Alliance of Children and Family Services to do an analysis of the programs and services that are part of the partnership with DFPS. The team reviewed reams of historic and current data in addition to interviews with key staff and stakeholders and observation. In the report was a sentence that read: What became apparent is HCPS has engaged in a number of endeavors in the past that involved a lot of good discussion, good ideas, good potential solutions, and even good plans. The problem has come with follow through. Many of the efforts called for actions that were only partially implemented at best. The Strategic Plan that we have put forward meets these two conditions. We made a commitment with our Board to revisit our progress implementing our strategies on a regular basis and communicate what we found and when we need to “track and adjust”.
The Plan addresses three overarching strategies related to culture, communication and strategic partnerships:
The first strategy is all about strengthening our organizational culture through becoming an agency that lives by our H.E.A.R.T Values. Two years ago when we rolled out the values at this meeting I spoke a lot about the importance of culture. Peter Drucker, leadership expert and author, was quoted as saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Introducing the values was the easy part. Implementing the values in an agency of over 350 staff and a rich history is a challenge. It has been a faith walk at times.
A lot of work has been done over the past two years to display and reinforce the values as well as recognize staff for living them. To bring the Core Values into all that we do, we have completed and are in the process of rolling out the new annual performance evaluation tool that translates the values into expectations, priorities and behaviors with colleagues, staff and self. To accompany this, we have also developed a new conference form that accompanies the evaluation that also incorporates the values into our monthly review of activities, outputs and outcomes.
We want HCPS to be a career choice for staff at all levels, and we want to create opportunities for them to develop their skills beyond the normal job functions. We are looking at the classification system for consistency across the agency in regard to education and experience and building a career track within each classification. We now have a system where internal staff may not meet the qualifications for a promotion to a supervisory position. We are looking at lead worker positions and hope to pilot this in some programs soon.
Recently, I met with a focus group consisting of tenured staff; designed to check my own perception on things. I wanted to ask a diverse group of tenured employees - what is the difference in how they experience the agency now as opposed to four or five years ago. The first comment in that session was “we are not afraid to terminate now”. We have become very good and cutting our losses quickly when we have people who are not living by our values or performing at expected levels. We also need to become very good at hiring the right people to replace them instead of similar individuals who also fail to exhibit our core values. To address this pattern of not hiring the best staff possible, I have charged the Human Resources Committee to revamp our hiring process to include more Human Resources involvement and consultation throughout the process and have consistent questions where we look more at cultural fit than at competency and skill level. Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines frame was quoted as saying “You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills”. This action will strengthen our organizational culture through becoming an agency that lives by our H.E.A.R.T Values. This is what our first strategy is about:
The overarching strategy also has an objective related to strengthening agency data. This is an issue that we have needed to address. This past January we welcomed a new County Judge in the honorable Lina Hidalgo and a new Commissioner, the honorable Adrian Garcia. One of the early actions of the new Commissioner’s Court was to approve the hiring of an outside consultant to conduct a countywide management and organizational study to review the criteria for evaluating departmental performance and the efficiency, necessity, and effectiveness of service delivery based on best practices. We need to contextualize our data to tell a more complete story of our strengths and challenges. To this end, we have increased the staff in our Continuous Quality Improvement area to look at the data that is currently being collected and to collect the right kind of data. We recognize that we need assistance in this area and as a result have reached out to the Texas Policy Lab at Rice University. The Policy Lab collaborates with state and local governments to deliver data driven solutions. Starting with the Youth Services Division, the Policy Lab will help us to analyze the data we collect and create executive dashboards for management.
The second strategy pertains to increasing community awareness and engagement of HCPS Services. We need to develop a concurrent communications strategy that allows us to define our own narrative and help tell the story of our good work, both internally and externally. Through greatly increased Speaker’s Bureau activity and hosting tables and conferences and fairs, expanded social media presence and keeping the new web site up to date, we are doing a good job of making the community aware of who we are and the free services and resources available. We have added the “Rained Out” agency text alert system for essential internal communications.
Let’s talk about the biggest bugaboo under this strategy. In objective 2.2 on “Communicate a more effective message of the Agency’s Brand by December 2020” the first action item reads: Study the positive and negative impact of the agency name through 2018. Yes—I allowed this to be in the plan. Discussion of a name change is not a new discussion. I remember Board members bringing this up well over 10 years ago. There was concern at the time that the negative publicity about our DFPS partner was impacting the reputation of HCPS. This agency originated in 1966 to provide local support for the state child welfare program in Harris County. This is what Harris County Children’s Protective Services that later became Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults when the Guardianship Program came over in 2003 was known for. It was our mission and it was a very effective partnership for many years. After 16 years, I, our Executive Team and Board felt it could be time to investigate how change could help improve our presence in the community.
I came into this position not prepared to revisit this issue. As I moved forward in this position, it became evident that we have grown as an agency in our School and Community Based Prevention Services in the Youth Services Division and with the addition and expansion of the Adult Services Division. Our partnership with DFPS for child welfare support is one of the things that we do, but we are now so much more. Our name is not reflective of this. Secondly, the message was brought very clearly to me that our name is holding us back; especially in our Youth Services Division where we provide voluntary services to the community. People were suspicious about participating in services and we spent a lot of time explaining who we are not than who we are. I am not an expert in communications but I realize that having to use all your valuable engagement time talking about who you are not is not a good communications strategy.
The staff and board workgroup assigned to this objective engaged with Athena, the student run marketing group at Rice University. Athena did a thorough analysis of the name including over 300 people on the street interviews in the community where I would say it was unanimous that people thought we were the state child welfare agency. The recommendation from Athena left no doubt of what needs to happen. I can tell you today that we will change our name. This is a process and I ask for patience. Where are we are in the process? - We are collecting suggested names from workgroup members, staff, and stakeholders. We will be presenting the first list of names to our Board at our meeting next week. We will narrow this down to a short list of 2-4 names at which time we will again take to the streets to field test these names. The Board will then select the new name which we will take to Commissioner’s Court for approval. I have already spoken to a couple of Commissioners and do not anticipate that we will not have an issue with passage. The final step will be Legislative action to change our name statute in the 87th Legislative session in 2021. We can begin using our new name once we receive Commissioner’s Court approval and do not have to wait for the Legislature. This will involve resources dedicated to the rebranding campaign that accompanies a name change. We will be working with a communications consultant on this. A name change is not an easy task. There is always inherent risk involved. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. We have taken that step. I look forward to moving up the staircase to a higher level with you all.
I want to reiterate and I will talk more about this with the next strategy that this does not in any way diminish our partnership with DFPS. The services and resources that we provide to support the state child welfare program in Harris County will still be an integral part of what we do as an agency is support of our mission. I believe that we can do this while at the same time building our own name identity that truly represents all that we do at HCPS for all of our clients. This may even serve to strengthen our relationship.
The third strategy pertains to building new relationships and strengthening current partnerships to better leverage all programs. We have over 500 partnerships throughout the Agency. HCPS is an enviable position to serve as a leader and facilitator in the community to pilot good ideas and bring programs and collaboration to scale. We see this with the Senior Justice Assessment Center, TRIAD, the Child Sex trafficking Initiative, CYS, Integrated Health Care, faith based initiatives, etc.
Our work on this goal started with our closest partner and the one that I believed was in need of the most attention, the Department of Family and Protective Services. Since our beginning in 1966 we have provided county funded and contracted services for a well-developed county –state child welfare partnership in Harris County. These services and contracts grew over time with some ebb and flow through the years. I know that there are people who wish that we could just keep providing the services that we are proving for DFPS year after year. Unfortunately, this is not reality. DFPS has gone through many transformations over the years as new Commissioners have come and left. With this, needs and priorities change and what worked yesterday may not work today. One of my concerns prior to my taking this position is that while DFPS kept transforming we were staying stagnant, running in place and that sooner or later this would catch up with us. If we don’t keep up with what is happening with our partners we will become irrelevant. It is my job to see that this does not happen.
In April of 2018 we held our first Board Retreat in over 4 and half years. For the afternoon of the Retreat, I invited the DFPS-CPS state and regional leadership team. The Associate Commissioner and Director of Field at State office participated along with the CPS Regional Director for Harris County. Former DFPS Commissioner Judge John Specia, facilitated the discussion. We had an honest conversation about how the state and county each view this partnership and what the current priorities are for the Department. We looked at how Harris County can best position itself to address these priorities. From this discussion and follow up discussions we learned that expansion of the Integrated Health Care Model to include CANS and Assessments, Residential Services through Kinder Emergency Shelter, expansion of services through HAY Center to expand mentoring and include housing options and expansion of the Nurturing Parent Program for placement prevention are how the County could best partner with the Department.
The retirement of the Children’s Services Administrator last fall meant a series of changes would be coming to Children’s Services. Instead of moving into just replacing the administrator we realized this movement gave us an opportunity to look at ways to improve, innovate, and align our current Division and the Programs it contains. Our Executive Team partnered with Division staff and others to gather data and collaborate to create a reorganization plan. In this plan some modifications were made to the current structure of the Division. The goal of the restructuring was to serve clients in the most efficient and excellent manner possible.
Following a thorough process of staff feedback, observation and consultation with both internal and external stakeholders we developed various models of how the Division could be integrated and even though it may look different, current services being offered would be implemented in a more efficient way. We chose a model that integrates the medical, behavioral health and assessment services for children in one location. The Division will be renamed the Integrated Health Services Division. This model allows the agency to provide current services in a more efficient and integrated manner. It also sets us up to move forward into the future with a structure to support new directions. In this model, we have eliminated the Children’s Crisis Care Center, AKA the 4C’s though not the services. Under a new Division Director, the services are organized under three lanes 1) Medical 2) Behavioral Health and 3) Assessment. During the process, we engaged the University of Texas Medical School that we contract with for Pediatric and Psychiatric Services to complete a deep dive evaluation of our medical processes. We are still working on this aspect of the restructuring. The plan will include the Medical lane expanding the hours to some evenings and Saturday mornings. The Permanency Program will remain under Ms. Anna Bell in Organizational Development as we continue to work with DFPS on the permanency model with a greater focus on Region 6A. A new organization chart will be sent shortly that will reflect this new structure to begin next month. I would like to thank Jeff Alexander, Anna Bell, Claudia Gonzalez and Ginger Harper who assumed additional responsibilities since this past November to assure that the Children’s Services Division continued to operate within the HEART Values during this transition. I would also like to extend a thanks to all Children’s Services staff for continuing to provide excellent service for our clients in the midst of disruption. They welcomed different leadership styles and worked well with one another on collaboration of reorganization needs and to provide coverage in all areas.
Also, the current Youth Service Division structure was created in 2011 after the agency moved from a program structure to a divisional structure. Since that time, new programs have been established and other programs have expanded, restructured and/or merged. Under the existing structure there was one YSD Administrator and one YSD Program Manager that provided division-wide oversight. With the many program changes, responsibility and oversight have been impacted and are no longer divided in an efficient and equitable way in which to effectively manage the programs.
For the past 11 months, along with Ginger Harper and Jeff Alexander, we have evaluated the YSD programs and the current structure. Those efforts resulted in a strategic plan to re-organize the division.
Integration of support functions and resources to improve and streamline services was the goal. The re-organization plan synergizes the programs, strengthens infrastructure leadership and ultimately provides a better continuum of service delivery to families. This plan has already been implemented and will be included in the updated agency organization chart.
The strategy also speaks to evaluating the Senor Justice Assessment Center’s (SJAC) model of service delivery and build strategic partnership to accomplish targeted future growth and direction. We are working on this as SJAC continues to grow in numbers and reputation. We are moving the Manager position from the grant to the general fund so we can add additional case management while building program infrastructure.
We will look at building new relationships and strengthen current partnerships to better leverage all programs and services for children, youth and adults within this strategy.
In closing I want to say that this is a great time to be a proud team member of Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults. The County has been reenergized with new leadership from Commissioner’s Court this past January. You heard from one of the new officials at the beginning of our session. The mission of HCPS is aligned with the values of the Court as they talk about diversion in the juvenile and adult justice systems, equity and transparency. I accepted this position knowing that there was a lot work to do to address the challenges that existed. I knew that this would not be a short process. I have learned that true system change takes a long time and is based on many complex variables. Peter Gruber, the founder of PolyGram Entertainment, said that short term thinking is not good in a marathon. I am proud of everything that we have accomplished together. It does feel like a different agency now in many ways. People are noticing, they are paying attention, but our journey of change leading to excellence is not over. There is more to come. Thank you for accepting the challenge and embracing the new things happening at HCPS.
There is a sign at the entrance to the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kent, WA that reads “Welcome to Amazon. It is still Day One. Are you ready to make a difference?” I extend the same welcome and challenge to you. Welcome to HCPS – Are you still ready to make a difference? This is our opportunity; this is our time to be not just an OK agency but to be a great agency.
Thank you Team HCPS. I look forward to laboring beside you as we continue to implement positive change!