Courtesy Department of Human Services
SALEM — The director of Oregon’s beleaguered Child Welfare division of the state Department of Human Services is stepping down after six months on the job.
Lena Alhusseini, who joined the agency in early November after it conducted a national search, submitted her resignation as child welfare director Wednesday afternoon.
She did not return a phone message seeking comment by deadline. A department spokesman declined Friday to provide answers to further questions about Alhusseini’s departure.
She will stay on at the agency, leading an effort to recruit diverse employees, until Sept. 1.
DHS Director Clyde Saiki announced Alhusseini’s departure in a statement Friday.
“I respect Lena’s vision for child welfare — a framework of community engagement and support — and that essential work will continue,” Saiki said. “However, Lena and I agree that we have not been able to get the results we need to achieve.”
Saiki himself is retiring Sept. 1. He will be replaced by the current director of the Oregon Youth Authority, the state’s agency overseeing juveniles in the criminal justice system.
Both departures come as DHS struggles to recover after significant documented problems in child welfare. Starting in 2015, news reports revealed the agency did a poor job monitoring management and safety issues at a Portland foster care provider, prompting further scrutiny of the system and calls for a culture change at the agency.
Under Alhusseini’s direction, which began shortly after the agency released a detailed outside report on the foster care system’s shortcomings, the division seemed eager to make improvements.
Alhusseini came to Oregon from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was executive director of the Arab-American Family Support Center. She did not return a phone message seeking comment by deadline.
Earlier this year state lawmakers learned children being screened after reports of abuse and neglect remained in unsafe situations after being deemed safe by DHS staff.
In March, Alhusseini unveiled a new training simulation for social workers. Last week, she announced an initiative to equip caseworkers with iPhones and tablets, in what was portrayed as an effort to increase productivity and home visits.
Saiki said that the agency would continue to emphasize child safety.
“Moving forward, our focus must be on the basics,” Saiki wrote, including correctly screening reports of abuse and neglect, ensuring safe placements and “ensuring ongoing oversight and support in family foster care and residential placements.”
“In addition, we must continue our efforts toward the culture change needed to put children’s safety at the center of every decision and action,” Saiki said.
According to a spokesman for DHS, Alhusseini’s annual salary of $150,000 will not change with her new position.
The agency’s deputy director of Child Welfare, Laurie Price, has been appointed interim director of the division.
The governor set aside about $1.05 billion for DHS’ Child Welfare division in her spending plan for the next two years. That figure may change as state legislators attempt to make cuts and raise taxes to fill an overall $1.4 billion budget gap in the upcoming two-year budget cycle.