June 8, 2011 in City

Welfare agency leader lacks support of union

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A vote by union employees of the state Children’s Administration overwhelmingly expressed no confidence in the agency’s head, the Washington Federation of State Employees said.

“This is not something we take lightly, and we hope the administration doesn’t take it lightly either,” said union spokesman Tim Welch, who added that morale at the agency is the lowest he has seen in more than 24 years.

With 37 percent of the 2,273-member bargaining unit voting, 772 workers, or 98.6 percent, voted to express no confidence in Denise Revels Robinson, Department of Social and Health Services assistant secretary who assumed leadership of the Children’s Administration in October 2009. Eleven members voted in support of her, and 66 ballots were voided.

Revels Robinson declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus defended the assistant secretary she appointed and attributed employee dissatisfaction to an austere state budget and efforts to restructure the child welfare system.

“I brought to this state the person who I and many others believe is the finest public child welfare director in America today,” said Dreyfus, who came to Washington from Wisconsin, where she headed the Department of Children and Families. Revels Robinson was an executive policy adviser there.

Before that Revels Robinson served 12 years as director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which had been criticized after the death of a 13-month-old boy in the system.

Dreyfus pointed to Revels Robinson’s numerous successes in Washington, including a stronger focus on child safety and a more timely response to referrals for abuse and neglect.

Last month, the agency was found to have improved performance in a 2010 review of child and family services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

However, Welch described “an atmosphere of fear and reprisal” in the Children’s Administration as well as “oppressive workloads” that put children at risk.

In a letter accompanying ballots submitted to union members on May 13, the union said employees are targeted for raising questions about “unnecessary and frequent changes in policies and procedures” and “reductions in resources available to successfully reunite families.”

Returned ballots were to be postmarked by May 27, and they were counted Monday night.

Also last month, the union was successful in asking a Thurston County judge to enjoin DSHS from contracting with private agencies to manage child welfare cases.

In February, the Foster Parents Association of Washington State wrote Gov. Chris Gregoire, complaining about Revels Robinson. The letter cited her lack of respect for the association as well as for one of her employees who worked closely with foster parents.


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