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County Supervisors approved a new department for child welfare services

Proponents say the department change will help make child and family welfare services more racially equitable

SAN DIEGO — County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved the establishment of a Health and Human Services Agency department that focuses on helping children and families.

According to the county, the Child and Family Well-Being Department will integrate multiple systems, including First 5 San Diego, Child Welfare Services and other Health and Human Services Agency departments "under one umbrella to deliver both prevention and safeguarding services."

The Child and Family Strengthening Advisory Board will oversee the organizational change and monitor the department's work, according to the county.

The Child and Family Well-Being Department will begin its multi-year transition in July.

As part of the shift, the Office of Child Safety will continue providing services now administered through Child Welfare Services.

During a presentation at the Tuesday Board of Supervisors' meeting, HHSA Director Nick Macchione told supervisors the new department will transform how the county helps families and children in need.

"It is fully aligned with the work your board has already done to increase timely access, with culturally responsive support for families, especially those in communities where our help is needed the most," Macchione added.

Proponents say the department change will allow the county to better address equity and improve outcomes, by concentrating efforts and money on programs that strengthen children and families, along with community partnerships.

"Equity and the safety of our community's children have always been at the core of our efforts," said Kim Giardina, director of Child Welfare Services, said in a statement. "This transformation allows us the flexibility to respond to the changing landscape and needs of our neighbors to best support them now and many years into the future."

County officials said the goals include reducing trauma, adverse childhood experiences and child maltreatment, with a focus on racial equity, and reducing the disproportionate number of Black, native American and Hispanic children in foster care.

According to the county, family-strengthening programs and better engagement have reduced the number of children in CWS care from nearly 7,000 to fewer than 2,000, representing a 71% reduction over the past 25 years.

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said the new department shows how the county can reimagine what government can do.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a statement the department "is the culmination of everything we have been doing over the last four years."

"Central to this new agency are the fundamental changes we have been implementing," Fletcher added. "I am excited to see the evolution of the Child Welfare Department into the new Child and Family Well-Being Department."

Over the past four years, other child welfare changes have included new rules on keeping siblings together, a service call hotline and increased support for young people moving out of the foster care system.

WATCH RELATED: Families separated by Child Welfare System rally on the steps of the California state Capitol (Jan 18, 2022)

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