A look at: the Social Services Board

Social Services board members Claudette Weston, Fleming El-Amin, Dave Plyler and Karen Durrell

A look at: the Social Services Board
September 28
04:00 2017

Forsyth County might consolidate departments


Forsyth County has solicited a study on the possibility of consolidating its departments of health and social services, which may involve combining or eliminating their citizen boards.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) has the smaller of the two boards with five positions, only four of which are filled. DSS itself is huge, with a $50 million budget funded by county, state and local governments and 507 staff positions. The board provides oversight for the department, hires the DSS director, advises the County Board of Commissioners on policy related to the department and provides the commissioners with the department’s annual budget.

The board currently consists of County Commissioners Dave Plyler and Fleming El-Amin; Claudette Weston, owner of meeting planning service Weston & Associates; and Karen Durrell, the newly retired Housing Authority of Winston-Salem COO. Aside from the two county commissioners, the rest of the board members are Forsyth residents appointed by the commissioners or DSS. Weston, who describes herself as “outspoken” on DSS issues, has served on the board for about 10 years.

“I just love kids and adults and I like what the Department of Social Services stands for,” she said. “I believe in it.”

El-Amin, who joined this year, said that the board gets to deal with the department’s business without the politics that might come into play during commissioner meetings.

“We can represent the general community, because our focus is always service to the community, and we have to be sensitive to their needs first,” he said.

DSS board meetings, held the fourth Monday of each month at 11:30 a.m. at DSS, typically last an hour or so with DSS Director Debra Donahue, DSS division heads and the board filling a conference room to discuss challenges and changes the department is facing. During Monday’s meeting, this included the possibility of Medicaid becoming block grants, which would limit federal Medicaid funds, something that’s being proposed in the latest Obamacare repeal effort in Congress.

Another discussion item involved DSS taking into custody an unprecedented 27 children in one month. Half of them were in homes with substance abuse, which is becoming more common with the national opioid crisis. Normally substance abuse is only involved with 5 percent to 8 percent of such cases. DSS will need to alter its contracts to increase the number of children that can be placed in facilities or licensed foster homes to address their therapeutic needs.

With all the varied services and complex regulations for each service, Durrell – who joined the board in July – said it’s more complicated than HAWS, which only dealt with housing.

“This is more a lot more diverse,” said Durrell.

Social Services family programs include adoption and foster care, child protective services, child support and family counseling. For adults, it provides work first employment services, adult care and in-home care assistance and can act as guardian for those declared incompetent in court. It’s also a place to enroll in Medicaid, food stamps, day care subsidies, energy bill assistance and other services.

Plyler, who’s been on the DSS board for more than six years, said the board brings a different point of view to issues the department’s staff is facing.

“We bring different pieces to the table,” he said.

Donahue, who moved from South Carolina to become Forsyth’s DSS director in 2014, said she appreciated the input of board members who know the county. She said the community knows and trusts them, and will reach out to them with questions about DSS. She said it’s helpful to be able to run things by Plyler and El-Amin that she needs approved by the county commissioners.

The consolidation study is expected to be done later this year. Consolidation mainly involves the governing structure of the departments, not their services.

The Chronicle will look at the Forsyth County Board of Health in a future issue.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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