Bobby Cagle, who as DFCS director is credited with stabilizing the long-troubled state agency, is departing for a child welfare position in Los Angeles.
He is being replaced by the agency’s chief of staff, Virginia Pryor, who will be interim DFCS director, the governor’s office announced this week.
Cagle will depart to lead the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services on Nov. 10.
A former caseworker himself, Cagle took over the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services as interim director in 2014.
The agency was plagued by job vacancies, high turnover, low morale, and huge workloads for its caseworkers. And the horrific deaths of two children in 2013, which led to criminal cases, brought more public and legislative attention to the program and how it was monitoring the home environments of vulnerable youngsters.
Many of the DFCS problems were linked to funding cuts. From 2006 to 2010, state funding for child welfare dropped by 39 percent. Four years of state worker furloughs — under which pay was actually reduced — took a toll, experts said.
As interim director, Cagle ordered mandatory overtime for DFCS investigators to reduce the state’s backlog in child protection investigations.
Under Cagle’s tenure, frontline child welfare staff were added, and caseloads shrunk significantly. The state also increased reimbursements for foster parents.
Still, GHN reported in 2016 that the number of Georgia children in state foster care had jumped from 7,600 to 13,200 since September 2013. That increase over three years was reported the highest in the nation.
The annual turnover rate for child welfare workers is still sizable, at 29 percent, but is down from a peak of 39 percent.
And the average caseload for a DFCS worker has decreased to an average of 19 statewide. GHN reported in 2014 that some caseloads exceeded 100. The agency said Thursday that it’s now fully staffed according to its budget, but has about 80 percent of the staff needed to get to its goal of 15 cases per worker.
This year, Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature approved 19 percent raises for DFCS workers – a pay boost aimed at attracting and retaining workers.
“We have no greater responsibility than caring for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens,” Deal said in a statement about the DFCS leadership this week. “It is imperative that we work to ensure that each child is safe and has the best possible opportunity for a good life.
“Virginia Pryor has been a longtime advocate for the well-being of children and she has already played a vital role in the administration of DFCS. I am confident that she will serve our state well as interim director.
“I am grateful for Director Cagle’s efforts as he helped move DFCS forward in a number of ways while protecting the interests of many young Georgians. I wish him well in his next endeavor to serve Los Angeles County.”
Child advocates praised Cagle’s work at the agency.
“We’ve come a long way during Bobby’s tenure,’’ said Karl Lehman of Childkind, an Atlanta nonprofit that delivers services for children who are disabled or have medically complex conditions. “He’s been able to build a lot of bridges between child welfare and the stakeholders, especially the Legislature.”
Polly McKinney of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children said Cagle’s DFCS tenure “provided a consistency of vision, advocacy and implementation that children and families touched by the child welfare system so desperately need. We trust that promotion of his longtime deputy, Virginia Pryor, will continue that work, and continue to advance the impressive reforms that his tenure began.’’
The Los Angeles Times reported that Cagle will take the helm of an agency with a $2.4-billion budget that is responsible for 34,000 youths across Los Angeles County, more than half of whom are in “out-of-home” care.
Cagle also will take responsibility for the department’s approximately 4,800 social workers, who have been plagued by high caseloads and, in some cases, have been the subject of intense scrutiny, as in the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whom the department had been tracking but failed to remove from his home, the L.A. Times reported.
To her new job, Pryor brings 27 years of child welfare experience, during which she has consulted with systems in 46 jurisdictions. Before joining state government, she was the principal of Immersion Consulting, a child welfare consulting group, and the senior director of strategic consulting for Casey Family Programs.