Gov. Dan McKee nominated Ashley Decker to the position of Director of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)
Gov. Dan McKee Tuesday announced his nomination of an Illinois child welfare advocate and former state official to lead the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families, which has been without a permanent director since 2019.
Ashley Deckert, a 16-year veteran of child welfare roles, would replace Acting Director Kevin Aucoin if her nomination is approved by the Rhode Island Senate. Since May 2021, Deckert has served as the director of public policy and government affairs with the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, where she oversees proposed legislation for improving the child welfare system.
No confirmation hearing schedule has been set but Senate spokesman Greg Pare said the process typically takes a few weeks.
DCYF falls under the umbrella of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and is responsible for child mental and physical wellbeing. As director, Deckert would head the agency’s four divisions – Child Welfare, Child Protective Services, Juvenile Correctional Services, and Permanency. She would join DCYF at a time when it continues working to regain accreditation from the Council on Accreditation and address staffing shortages. The agency reported last month that it was making progress in filling vacancies but had open positions for 25 caseworkers and 16 child protective investigators.
Deckert spent 13 years in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She served in a variety of roles, rising to the position of deputy director of child services, managing residential monitoring and recruiting, foster parent recruitment, juvenile delinquency and restorative justice.
Graduate degrees in social work and public policy
A Chicago native, Deckert also serves as an adjunct instructor for the University of Illinois School of Social Work and has guest lectured at Illinois State University. She earned Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Social Work degrees and a Master of Arts in public policy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“Ashley has dedicated her successful career to enhancing the wellbeing of children and families,” said Governor McKee in a press release.
“She is an experienced leader with a proven track record and I am grateful she is bringing that knowledge and experience to Rhode Island.”
“I am extremely honored to be considered for the position of Director for the Department of Children, Youth, and Families for the state of Rhode Island,” Deckert said in a statement.
“If confirmed, I look forward to working with amazing and dedicated staff, community-based providers, the Rhode Island General Assembly, the union, and other pertinent stakeholders to impact systems change and work toward continual improvement of the child and family well-being system in Rhode Island. I firmly believe that a paradigm shift is needed; we must use the levers within and outside of our system in order to create solutions that acknowledge the whole parent. When parents thrive, children thrive, but it requires a shift in the way we see parents that come to our attention.”
The 2022 Annual Report from the Office of the Child Advocate, highlighted many of the challenges facing DCYF, including a lack of placements for children in the department’s care who need specialized mental health treatment. As a result, over 40 children were stuck waiting in hospitals for a place to go and 66 children were receiving treatment at facilities out of state, including Virginia, Tennessee and Oklahoma. DCYF has had an acting child advocate since last summer.
Ana Novais, acting secretary of the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services said she looked forward to working together with Deckert “as DCYF continues to strengthen its supports for children and families and work towards accreditation.”
“We are grateful to Kevin Aucoin for the stable leadership he has provided DCYF over the past four years and throughout his career,” Novais said.
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