Cecile Blucker, the director of the Division of Children and Family Services at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, will leave the position at the end of March, the agency confirmed this morning.
She will have been in charge of the state’s agency for child welfare for seven years this March. In 2015, DCFS came under increased public and legislative scrutiny for a number of high profile cases, including the rehoming of two children adopted from state custody by Rep. Justin Harris and the removal of multiple children from the home of Hal Stanley, a pastor living near Hot Springs.
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The agency also experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of children in the foster system statewide last year. Coupled with a chronic shortage of foster homes in many regions of Arkansas, that has led to an ongoing crisis of where to place those children.
DHS spokesperson Amy Webb told the Arkansas Times today that Blucker “has not been asked to step down. This is a decision that she made.”
In the Harris case, Blucker specifically came under fire for her purported role in the adoption of two young girls by Justin and Marsha Harris; the sisters were later “rehomed” with another family, where one was sexually abused. Two former foster parents, Cheryl and Craig Hart, and a former DCFS worker, Jan Wallis, both told the Arkansas Times last year that Blucker personally intervened in the Harrises’ adoption proceedings, which occurred in 2012. They claimed that Blucker pressured local DCFS staff to recommend the Harris adoption proceed, overriding their objections. Blucker and Harris knew each other well from Harris’ time in the legislature, where he had influence over the agency’s budget. FOIA’d emails, though heavily redacted, showed that Harris and Blucker communicated regularly, and that on at least one occasion Harris held up the DCFS budget in what appeared to be an attempt to intercede in an individual case (at the time, Harris said through an attorney that the email in question involved a constituent of his).
After the news of the Harris rehoming broke last spring, Rep. Harris himself attempted to shift some of the blame for the scandal onto DCFS, and Blucker in particular. He claimed that Blucker personally knew of the whereabouts of his two adopted children after they had been rehomed with another family. She did not report it, he said. Also, a source familiar with DHS told the Arkansas Times that Blucker was, at least, officially made aware of the Harris rehoming days or weeks before the call to the child abuse hotline that triggered the actual investigation into the Harrris rehoming in early 2014. According to the source, after Blucker was officially told of the rehoming, she called Harris, who agreed to return the girls to DCFS custody at a specified time. The source said Harris did not show up at the office — and even then, Blucker did not notify State Police that the girls’ wherebouts were officially unknown.
At the time, Blucker would not comment either on Harris’ narrative (that she knew all along where the two children were located) or the allegations made by the Times‘ source, saying she couldn’t discuss any individual adoption case. As so often happens with child welfare, strict confidentiality laws shielded the details from public view.
From today’s press release:
Cecile Blucker, Director of the Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), announced Wednesday that she plans to leave her position at the end of March.
Blucker has served as the DCFS Director since March 2009. Prior to holding that position, she served as the chief financial officer and as an assistant director for the division. Under her leadership, the Division has undergone major reforms that allowed more families to stay together and ultimately stay out of the child welfare system. The Division also increased its use of evidence-based practices when working with children and families and began collecting extensive data about child welfare on which better decisions could be made.
“Cecile had done a phenomenal job in turning DCFS around, from an agency in crisis to one that the federal government and other states often cite as a ‘best practice’ model,” DHS Director John Selig said. “She has dedicated her time as director to strengthening the child welfare system and the families it serves, and I appreciate all that she has done.”
Here’s the email that Blucker sent to employees:
Subject: New chapter
After a lot of thought, I have resigned as the Director of Children and Family Services effective March 31, 2016. This is not a decision that I have made lightly as child welfare has captured my heart.
I am very proud of the Division and the accomplishments that have been made even under some of the most adverse situations – lack of funding, staff, etc. However the state has continued to exceed a number of national standards and continues to receive national recognition.
In looking back over the years, the state’s child welfare system has implemented a number of innovative and evidence-based programs designed to strengthen how we assess and deliver services to the children and families we are charged with serving. Through these programs, the state should see healthier families who are not as apt to abuse and neglect their children. These are the beginning programs to help address the generational issues we so often see in the child welfare system.
There will continue to be many more accomplishments due to the very committed child welfare staff in the state. It is my hope that more individuals will come to realize the dedication and commitment of the staff here. I have said a number of times that many staff sacrifice or neglect their own children/family because they are taking care of the children and families as an agency we are to serve.
The experiences and the people I have met, while serving in this role, will stay with me for a lifetime. In child welfare we see the worst of human kind however we see the rewards of individuals getting their lives back together and the smiles of the children who get to go back home with their families. We also see the smiles of those children who have gotten that second chance at a new family.
We do make a difference in the life of children and families every day – never lose sight of that and always remember it is always easier to have people look in and tell you how they think you should have done your job vs. doing the job.
As change is inevitable in all phases of our life, it is time for me to focus more and spend more time with those I love.
I appreciate each of you and appreciate the opportunity to have served you and the state in this role. I appreciate all of the support I have received. I wish only the best for the Division and for the children and families we are charged with protecting and serving.
Again, thank you so much for your dedication and commitment.