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ANCHORAGE - The Murkowski administration has launched a nationwide search for someone to fill what some call the hardest job in state government: director of the Division of Family and Youth Services.
Joel Gilbertson, Alaska's new health and social services commissioner, said the agency needs a new perspective.
"It will take an individual who is energetic and talented with the desire and experience to lead a division that has faced challenges as of late," Gilbertson told the Anchorage Daily News.
The department also is looking for two deputy commissioners, but its top priority is finding a DFYS director, Gilbertson said. That's the direction from Gov. Frank Murkowski, he said.
DFYS is the state's lead agency in protecting children from abuse and neglect with 387 workers, 29 field offices and a budget of $93.5 million.
"It's a tough deal when you are dealing with these intensely human responsibilities," said state Rep. Fred Dyson, who is moving to the state Senate in January where he will chair the Health, Education and Social Services Committee.
DFYS desperately needs a strong leader, said Dyson, an Eagle River Republican. The agency has a history of promoting social workers into management jobs they are ill-equipped for, he said.
According to a federal review in September, too many children are hurt repeatedly despite reports to DFYS that they are in danger; parents aren't getting the counseling and other services needed to keep children at home; and children don't get permanent families quickly enough.
Alaska's plan for fixing its child protection system was due to the federal government Dec. 18. Gilbertson asked for a three-month delay, so the new DFYS director can be involved in shaping the changes. If the state doesn't improve, it faces the loss of almost $190,000 in federal funds.
DFYS officials have long argued their problems are due to understaffing and the complexities of investigating abuse reports in such a large state.
Theresa Tanoury served as DFYS director during the last five years of the Knowles administration. She resigned as of Dec. 3 and is opening a Juneau office for Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation that offers services for foster children and their families.