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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 26, No. 1
December 2020

The Unified Leadership Team

A County/State Partnership to Guide Child Welfare Transformation

Child welfare transformation in North Carolina aims to create a culturally competent, trauma-informed, family-centered, and safety-focused child welfare system in North Carolina. We want to consistently meet outcomes related to safety, permanency, and well-being of children and to build and support a stable, effective child welfare workforce in our state.

The Unified Leadership Team (ULT) is responsible for providing guidance and direction to help us sequence and achieve these goals. To learn more about this important stakeholder group, we spoke with Heather Skeens, Director of Guilford County Department of Social Services and Co-Chair of the ULT.

As we think you will agree after reading the exchange below, the ULT is an exciting demonstration of state and county partnership. It reminds us of the importance of partnership between the child welfare system and its stakeholders, and also between social workers and families. With the ULT at the helm of child welfare transformation, we are confident North Carolina's child welfare system will continue to improve.

Interview with ULT Co-Chair Heather Skeens

What is the Unified Leadership Team?
The ULT is a partnership between state and county leaders to inform, lead, and think critically about child welfare work in North Carolina and to make the system more impactful. Integrally involved in decision-making, the ULT is the driver of child welfare transformation in North Carolina. More specifically, we set priorities for this work and recommend strategies for improving our system.

What is the vision and purpose of the ULT?
We want to guide child welfare reform in North Carolina, to protect children, to protect county Department of Social Services agencies, and to ensure our child welfare system is fiscally responsible. We are committed to making common sense decisions that work at the state and county level. We think critically about the impact of our choices, with a focus on creating solutions to problems that are simple and effective.

Who is on the ULT and why is this composition important?
The Unified Leadership Team is comprised of Directors of County Social Services and NC Division of Social Services Child Welfare Executive leaders, including:

  • Lisa Cauley, Deputy Director of Child Welfare Services, NC Division of Social Services (NCDSS),
  • Chuck Lycett (Dare County DSS Director and NCACDSS Second Vice President),
  • Heather Skeens (Guilford County DSS Director and NCACDSS First Vice President),
  • Karen Harrington (Catawba County DSS Director and NCACDSS Children's Services Committee Co-Chair),
  • Jennie Kristiansen (Chatham County DSS Director and NCACDSS Children's Services Committee Co-Chair),
  • April Snead (Scotland County DSS Director), and
  • Katie Swanson (Cleveland County DSS Director), Co-Chair of the NCACDSS Children Services Committee.

The membership of the ULT was carefully selected. We wanted to create true, equal partnership between state and county leaders who would guide child welfare work in our state. We wanted people on the team who have the authority to make major decisions for our child welfare system, and we are committed to working together to make these choices. I co-chair the ULT with Lisa Cauley.

What would you say to our readers about child welfare transformation?
To child welfare staff, I'd say: we know you are committed to improving outcomes for children and families. We can do better and we can be better, but that doesn't mean we aren't already doing good work. To truly serve our families well, we must always strive for improvement.

To our stakeholders, I'd say: all agencies and organizations that provide services to children will be impacted by child welfare transformation. We can't protect children without you--it takes a village and a community. Please join us in making our system better. While we have differences, we can all agree to one common goal: children should be safe, protected, and in stable homes. The decisions we all make should begin with this end in mind.

Are there any other messages the ULT would like to communicate?
COVID-19 has presented many challenges to the child welfare system. County agencies, staff, and leaders have adapted quickly to these challenges. Thank you for being flexible and for continuing to do excellent work in the midst of these trying times.

Community partners, we ask that you continue to walk with us, to ask questions, and to expect excellent customer service. Be patient with us as we continue to navigate these challenges, while ensuring children are safe and protected.