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DCFS COVID-19 Updates: Messages from the Secretary
My Thanksgiving Prayer for You
November 24, 2020
As Thanksgiving approaches, my heart is full for all the things I have to be thankful for. I am also very aware that I am NOT thankful this year for COVID and multiple hurricanes -- and the stress that has put on our clients and each of you.
However, I’m thankful that you have responded with being who you are -- people who help people. And you have stepped into such huge roles of service this year, more than ever before. We have all had to learn to work from home, to wash our hands, cover our faces and stand further apart than we are used to. In a state where hugs and closeness is valued and cherished, these mitigation efforts have felt constraining and frustrating. And yet, they are lifesaving and necessary for our work and homes to remain safe places.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and this year is painful as we limit the size of our family gathering. It makes me sad that my family can’t all be together at one time in the same place, sharing stories and food and laughter together. I know many of you are making the same kind of hard decisions. An even with the magic of Zoom, it just will not be the same. It feels like we have had to make a lot of hard decisions this year, and I, for one, am looking forward to 2021 being a better year.
I have shared with you before that music is a solace for me, and a friend sent me this link early during COVID. It is a blessing song. It may or may not speak to you or be of any interest, but I share it as a gift and a prayer. It is about six minutes long, so if you are interested, listen when you have a few minutes to enjoy it. However you define the Holy, Higher Power or the Universe, this is my personal prayer for you, that you will have peace this Thanksgiving season. In the midst of the hard, the sad, the long-distance, the isolated or restricted, that somewhere along the way, you find time to care for yourself, that you remember those you love and hold dear, and you have time to commune with nature and all of the glory of fall in South Louisiana.
Because the truth is, despite it all, we are all still here. Unlike so many in America, we are employed in jobs we love, giving and serving others, which is what drew you to DCFS in the first place. I am thankful for each of you, for the gift you are to the people we have served this year, in our normal work and in the extra disaster response. I am thankful you are here, doing the hard work of service, with kindness.
Preparing for Sally
September 14, 2020
Dear DCFS Team –
As you all know by now, Tropical Storm Sally is in the Gulf of Mexico and currently projected to make landfall in southeastern Louisiana or Mississippi on Tuesday or early Wednesday as a potential Category 1 or 2 hurricane. This storm threatens to bring intense rainfall, extremely dangerous storm surge and wind impacts to our state in the coming days.
In accordance with DCFS Emergency Preparedness Policy 1-02, a copy of which is attached to this email, I have given our EP Director, Ricky Montet, the authority to make decisions regarding the use of personnel and to provide directives to personnel in order to coordinate the DCFS response. All ESF-6 personnel should be prepared to go on Active status, as needed.
Thank you again for all the hard work you do on behalf of Louisiana’s children and families, and thank you for your dedication and professionalism in switching gears to help fulfill our role of providing our most vulnerable populations a safe harbor through the storm. I join you all in prayer that this storm moves quickly through our state and that all of you remain safe and dry.
Too Many Names to Mention
September 13, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
People always say, “Be careful when you start naming names in recognition. You will always leave someone out and hurt feelings.” That is probably true. And sometimes, you just need to say out loud, “I see you, I see what you are doing, I appreciate your work, admire your commitment, and applaud your efforts to help families in crisis.”
Here at DCFS, I could probably name almost everyone in the Department as someone who will go above and beyond to help families. It is after all, what we do every day. We lift up, we encourage, we support, we help, we investigate, we protect, we shelter, we feed, we are the silent team that is there to be what is needed for a family in their time of need.
Right now, there are hundreds of staff taking DSNAP calls in the first ever virtual DSNAP. We are yet again setting the pace for the nation as we work our way to success with every call. Learning, modifying, helping, encouraging and just being kind to those who have lost food, power, their home, and their sense of normalcy. Does it really matter? Just ask the woman who said, “Without you, my son and I wouldn’t be able to eat tonight.” What we do matters.
There are also staff who have moved 24/7 into the EOC and taken up the tasks needed there to keep time, money, staffing and operations moving appropriately. Coding hours, writing reports, doing the “back office” work that is so critical to disaster efforts. Meeting FEMA and DOA regulations, matching requirements to the work, making sure we are dotting every “I” and crossing every “T.”
And there is the Communication team, moving at whirlwind pace to keep up with the constant changing dynamics and information to get accurate facts out to our staff, state officials and the citizenry of Louisiana.
In this usual time and place of COVID, Laura and now Sally, DCFS once again steps into the gap for families. We dig deep, pulling on personal reserves and strength when we are weary and need rest. I listen on the EP calls every afternoon to the staff who lead our efforts in the regions to make the magic for families come to life. In their calm, steady and competent voices, they make decisions, brief circumstances, ask questions, clarify needs, make recommendations and take guidance. Then they shelter, feed, encourage, listen, and be there for the frustration, fear, hurt and anger of our clients and respond with kindness. The EP team seems to grow in responsibility with every call, and yet the number of staff dedicated to this work stays the same. I think that proves an exception to the rule of not naming names and I know naming is the right thing to do, but yet I know that as much as I try to name them all, I’ll inevitably leave someone off. LAMs and RCs working hard in the Regions to make this happen, I thank you, those working in EOC’s, State ECO, DCFS EOC and Regional EOCs, I thank you. For all those working DSNAP, P-EBT, replacements and supplements for those in need of food, I thank you. Your dedication to the mission inspires me.
Checking on the Team
August 28, 2020
It is hard to imagine a stronger storm than Laura. With record-breaking damage across portions of our state that never see hurricanes, Laura is certainly one for the record books. But far more important than records is the safety of our citizens -- and to me, the DCFS staff. We are trying to get in touch with you all, to make sure you are safe and well. We know power outages are making contact harder, and that the losses of home, water and power are all-consuming and more important than checking in. And the loss of air-conditioning makes life in Louisiana in August almost unbearable. I have no magic words to make it better. I only have prayer and good energy and best wishes, but all of those I offer in abundance.
If you have not been able to check in with your supervisor or someone else in your office, please do so as soon as you are able. We want to help, and are looking for ways to do that. Please know, for all of us who were not affected, your best interests are our top concern.
As always, our people run into the disaster, and many of you, despite personal loss, are still working to help others. Our extraordinary Emergency Preparedness first responders are out in force in hotels, registration sites and in offices trying to make life a little easier for those who are in need of shelter. I stand in awe every time we experience a disaster at the sheer volume of work that our staff accomplishes. My admiration and thanks for your work is small comfort, but I do offer it in all sincerity.
Please take care of yourselves in the midst of taking care of others. Small 3-5 minute sanity breaks to simply breathe deeply and close your eyes may sound corny, but they really do help drop the stress hormones and the chemicals in your brain that are not helpful to your well-being. :)
I say it all the time, and I mean it. DCFS staff are the best in the state, and as our friend Senator Barrow says, you are the heart of state government. Thank you for all you are doing. Please stay safe, and take good care.
Prayers for our team as Hurricane Laura approaches
August 25, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
As I sit here watching the storm and listening to our Governor, my heart goes back 15 years to Hurricane Rita. I remember how proud I was at that time of our staff, and I am reminded of how much even better prepared we are now. Thanks to our amazing EP team, which includes the LAMs and all who step up to work in shelter and registration and evacuations. We are miles ahead of where we were 15 years ago.
And then, COVID. We certainly have never had to shelter in a pandemic. So all of our wonderful plans shift to non-congregate plans. Now hotels are the safest way to house those who must evacuate and our roles shift. We are well-known to be flexible and nimble, and we are certainly doing a nimble dance right now!! Please keep Ricky and his Emergency Preparedness team in your thoughts and prayers over the next few days. We have a long road ahead.
Please know each of you is important to me, and you are all in my own personal thoughts and prayer offerings. I pray you will find safe harbor if you need to evacuate, and that you do it quickly. I pray you will be safe from the winds and the rains and that you and your families will be protected from harm. Mother Nature is fierce, and we know that storms can move and shift during the event. So for those of you who feel safely on the “fringes,” please be smart and take good care as well. Laura will impact a huge portion of our state, and we want everyone sheltering safely and with those you love. And if you are the praying type, please keep your colleagues who are stepping into harm’s way to serve others at the top of your lists. Our staff always answer the call of service. I am grateful for you and so very, very proud.
Message from the Secretary -Monday message from M
August 17, 2020
Good afternoon! I hope you’re starting the week off well. I’m sending you a message today by video. You can watch it here.
I also want to provide links to the Listening Circle registration and to the confidential Survey. If you haven’t been able to attend a session, I encourage you to please complete the brief survey. I really appreciate your input.
Have a great week!
Message from the Secretary -There's still room in the Listening Circles!
August 6, 2020
Good afternoon, Team.
There’s still room in the listening circles, but don’t wait too long to sign up. I had mistakenly said there are 700 slots in each circle, but there are actually only 100 slots in each session – 700 total! I wouldn’t want you to miss your opportunity to participate. You can register for one of the sessions at the link below.
Listening Circle Session Registration link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAlcOGhrzIqGteT5lo1Ra76Bu-UJ2DbtU1u
Thank you for all you do.
Message from the Secretary - Join the Conversation! Register for a Listening Circle or Complete a Brief Survey (See Links Below)
If you were able to join a Conversation with me last week, you heard me mention the upcoming diversity and inclusion work we are beginning. Below is the message inviting you to join either a “listening circle” or to participate in a survey, being conducted by an independent consultant, to get insight into how you feel DCFS is doing. I truly want our organization to be one that values every single person, where people feel respected and are treated with dignity. Please look at the invitation below and seriously consider offering your feedback in one of these ways. Community Build Ventures will be gathering all the surveys and providing it to leadership in aggregated form, so no individual or identifying information will be shared. I hope you will join the conversation!
Louisiana DCFS Listening Circle
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (LA DCFS) is striving to have an organization that creates a safe place for staff that honors diversity. They also want to ensure that practice and policies create equitable outcomes for the children and families it serves. In its effort to do this, we, CommunityBuild Ventures, will conduct listening circles to hear from you; learn how you are doing through these challenging times; and obtain your recommendations as we move forward.
If you are interested in participating, please sign up for ONE of the following dates by selecting the date of your choice below. Each listening circle can accommodate 700 participants, so please register as soon as possible to claim your space. The time is from 10-11:30 a.m. CDT.
Please note that your responses are completely confidential. Names and contact information will not be shared with the LA DCFS Executive Team. You will be identified via an #ID created by our consultants.
The scheduled dates are:
- Monday, August 10th
- Tuesday, August 11th
- Wednesday, August 12th
- Thursday, August 13th
- Monday, August 17th
- Tuesday, August 18th
- Wednesday, August 19th
Listening Circle Session Registration link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAlcOGhrzIqGteT5lo1Ra76Bu-UJ2DbtU1u
If you are unable to attend a listening circle session, we invite you to complete a brief survey. Please note that your responses are completely confidential, thus no names are being provided. You will be identified via an #ID created by our consultants.
Survey Link: https://forms.gle/mHEKpm65MFBdv4vt6
Thank you for your attention to this invitation. We are grateful for your feedback!
Natasha A. Harrison
President and CEO
Metro DC (202) 834-7439
Metro Atlanta (404) 436-0895
Message from the Secretary - Let’s Keep the Conversation Going
Dear DCFS Team,
Thank you to the more than 1,200 staff who joined our “Conversations with the Secretary” webinars last week. It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything of this scale, and I think we’ll definitely do it again. Of course, there’s nothing like getting on the road and visiting with you in person, but there’s something to be said for the ability to reach so many of you at once!
We had a lot to talk about. We discussed plans underway to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion at DCFS. (Stay tuned for more on that.) We “masked up,” as Deputy Secretary Terri Ricks explained the DCFS COVID Two-Step, actions staff can all take to prevent the spread of COVID and an online portal for reporting positive COVID tests or symptoms to supervisors. Terri also walked us through the DCFS Phase Two Extension Guidelines, which include scenarios that answer many of the questions staff have about the realities of living and working in this new normal.
In other action, our Family Support and Child Welfare divisions provided updates on all the great work being done by their teams, Emergency Preparedness Director Ricky Montet gave us an EP update and Undersecretary Eric Horent discussed market adjustments, which the Governor made possible for eligible staff in this past legislative session. We also bid farewell to Deputy Assistant Secretary Sammy Guillory, who announced his retirement after 33 years with DCFS. We are all still trying to imagine a DCFS without Sammy.
I know, between technical snafus and scheduling conflicts, not everyone was able to participate in the Conversations. That’s why we’re making a recording available here. I also want to invite you to contact me directly if you have input for me.
I can’t say it enough, especially with all of the challenges you encounter and the good you do for the children and families of this state: I’m so honored to be your Secretary. Thank you for all you do.
Message from the Secretary - Join Me for Conversations with the Secretary This Week
Good morning, DCFS Staff.
It’s become our practice to use the “quiet” summer months between the legislative sessions and the height of storm season to plan for one of the things I enjoy most about my work, traveling out into the regions to meet with all of you in person.
As so many things are different this year, our Conversations sessions must be, too. Although we won’t be able to meet in person, what’s important is that we’ll have the opportunity to see each other’s faces- and to talk about what’s important to us. What I’ve learned from you has shaped the direction of the past four years, and I expect these meetings -which will be held through Zoom on Wednesday and Thursday of this week -- to be equally productive, though different from what we’re used to.
The upcoming Conversations with the Secretary will be quick one-hour meetings. I have a couple of important things to talk to you about, so I hope you will be able to join me. Please see the links below.
COVID-19 has changed so much in our world, and I am grateful we have the technology we do so that we can stay connected. While it’s not my favorite style of communication, it certainly is better than not communicating at all! I sure look forward to the day when I can get on the road, sit down with you in your offices and see your beautiful faces in person.
I pray you are all staying safe, healthy and well. I know we have had several staff get sick with the virus, and that we all wish them well and pray for their recovery. I know how hard everyone has been working and that we are all weary of the constraints we are under and are looking forward to better days. I have no crystal ball to know when that might be, but I believe that if we do what our Governor and the medical professionals tell us to do, we will get through this. So, mask-up, wash your hands, social distance and be safe out there. I look forward to talking with you soon.
Conversations with the Secretary Schedule and Links
Conversations with the Secretary | DDS & State Office
July 29, 2020 at 3:30 PM
Please click this URL to join. https://stateofladcfs.zoom.us/j/93666573714?pwd=MXNYSnFnUmZJZkhPK3BLWkM5bXFPdz09
Conversations with the Secretary | North
July 30, 2020 at 1:00 PM
Please click this URL to join. https://stateofladcfs.zoom.us/s/94295632088?pwd=K3dSWGh0TFZORFFsSWRId0JZZGQ0UT09
Conversations with the Secretary | Central
July 30, 2020 at 2:15 PM
Please click this URL to join. https://stateofladcfs.zoom.us/s/94928291160?pwd=RGhBb1oyc2JlVTFncVJoM1IreXp4UT09
Conversations with the Secretary | South
July 30, 2020 at 3:30 PM
Please click this URL to join. https://stateofladcfs.zoom.us/s/94877933243?pwd=RG8wUlY1RG9lKytoZ05nTTQzQWU1QT09
Message from the Secretary - Good news, y'all!
I pray this finds each of you safe and well. It feels like with the surge in Covid cases, the news every day is worse than the day before. And we do need to be more careful, more cautious than ever before, while too many around us seem to think Covid is over. So please, please, take care of yourselves.
It’s even more fun, given the bad new all around, to be able to share good news. Yesterday, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the state budget bill for Fiscal Year 2021. And, he vetoed the preamble language in the bill prohibiting agencies from granting market adjustments to their staff. That means eligible employees will receive market adjustments on July 15!! I am very excited that he recognized the work of state employees in such a bold move.
Governor Edwards often talks about the great work of state workers, and he often singles out DCFS staff as examples. Granting market adjustments shows his appreciation and respect for those who serve their neighbors every day.
Message from the Secretary - Happy Fourth of July, DCFS!
Well, the Legislature that will forever be called the COVID session adjourned “sine die” last night at about 5 p.m., one hour ahead of the deadline. They passed a budget that was pretty good to DCFS. We got 45 T.O. positions to bring the STEP program back into our department and 25 T.O. positions for Child Welfare. Given the hard budget issues the state faces, these were very big wins for us.
We built some new partnerships and strengthened others. We gained some new supporters. We passed all our bills and protected ourselves from some that might have hurt us. While we were not as “ever-present” at the Capitol as we are in normal times, both Makesha and Chip did their usual magic and represented us well. We also had program staff there when needed, and so as Chip always says, it was a team effort and I am so very proud of this team.
One thing that concerns us all is the uncertainty of the pay raises. The Legislature voted to postpone a decision about them until October. We do not know what actions the Governor or the Civil Service Commission and the Division of Administration will do, so I have no easy answer for you yet. As soon as we understand all the implications and know for sure where we stand, I will tell you. So stay tuned!
The world of COVID-19 just keeps on coming, doesn’t it? With a spike in community spread, fear and anxiety begins to creep up again for those who may have felt, as I did, that we were on the right side of this thing and getting closer to our new “new normal.” Please stay safe and wear your mask, wash your hands and keep 6 feet apart when you are in the office and/or with your colleagues. You are each important to this world, and we need you all healthy and well. My prayers go with you and your families daily.
There is so much good going on at DCFS. Even in the midst of the craziest time on earth, we keep doing what we do best, taking care of those who need our help. Whether it be at state parks, at home work spaces, at the Call Center, in the office or out in the field seeing families, we continue to serve and to offer hope and security for those who need us most. As we take time to celebrate the birthday of our country, we have friends and loved ones still serving on foreign soil. In fact, 155 Louisiana National Guardsmen will leave for Kuwait over this holiday weekend. Please take a few moments to offer thanks and prayers for the safety of those who sacrifice to keep us safe.
It will be an unusual holiday, but my prayer for you all is that you get some time to rest and reflect, to take a break from the work and to enjoy time with family. Stay hydrated in the heat, and take good care of yourselves. Happy Fourth of July DCFS!
Message from the Secretary - Hope, despair, joy and sorrow
I end this week in hope and despair, joy and deep sorrow. Joy because we learned this week we have been re-confirmed as an executive team and we can continue to serve in this term, and hope because I work with the most remarkable people in state government.
Despair and deep sorrow because we live in such troubled and painful times.
As Tropical Storm Cristobal adds another layer of things we have to face in our world today, my prayer is for you all to be safe and well. Please take good care in these extraordinary times.
Message from the Secretary - Such a Time as This
Today is the first day of hurricane season, and, as DCFS staff, we know what that means even more than others in our state. We know how to prepare, what to get ready for, how to stock our shelves and protect our property. We tell our families we will be called to serve should the need arise and make the plans necessary for that service. But today my heart is heavy with another storm -- the storm of racial unrest and injustice.
I wish that I had the words to express my deepest concern for each of you in this time. You all matter to me, and I care about you.
At DCFS, our work is based on taking care of those who need help, and treating our clients with respect and dignity. Through this and at all times, my hope is that here, at DCFS, we are careful in thought and deed and we take great care to be kind to each other, especially in such a time as this.
Message from the Secretary - Hats off to you on a great "first day back!"
Good afternoon, DCFS Team!
Well, it’s Friday afternoon and we are soon to be closing our first day of being open to the public again. So far, I haven’t heard of any major issues, and thanks to super sleuth Deputy Ricks, we have a few pictures to share from Baton Rouge. We invite you to send your masked photos from DCFS offices to us at DCFS.Info@la.gov. We’ll create a gallery and share the link next week in the next staff newsletter. I can’t wait to see!
As always, you were rock stars today. You figured out what was needed, who could do what was needed, and then you did it. You make it look easy, and as an old fund-raiser, I know when an event LOOKS easy, it had a TON of planning behind it. So hats off to you all for a great “first day back!” I’m proud of you all and wish you all a happy weekend. I hope you get some rest, stay dry, and stay well.
Message from the Secretary - Gradual Return to the Office
Prioritizing Safety as We Return to Offices
May 4, 2020
As this crazy world just keeps turning, my thoughts turn to you, and I wonder how you are doing. With all the messages circulating about what is open, what isn’t, who wears a mask, who stands too close, it feels like we have lots of things to digest and figure out.
First and foremost, your health and safety is important to me. As we transition back into our buildings and find our way into a “new normal,” there are some guidelines from Commissioner Dardenne about what state offices should look like. Below you can see the rules:
II. SAFETY MEASURES
The health and welfare of our employees remain our highest priority. In returning employees to the workplace, specific safety measures, in compliance with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, must be implemented to ensure that we continue our efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Managers are to ensure compliance with the following:
- Facial Coverings – A mask (preferably cloth), scarf, bandana or other such facial covering shall be worn upon entering and leaving the office building, in halls, walkways, stairwells, elevators, kitchens, break rooms, meeting rooms and restrooms. Employees are encouraged to bring their own, but supplies will be available for those unable to do so. Although preferable to wear a facial covering at all times, employees assigned to a private office or individual cubicle may remove the facial covering while working within their designated work space. The facial covering should fully cover the mouth/nose area and may not contain images or text that are inappropriate or may be offensive to others.
- Physical Distancing – Employees are required to maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from others at all times. In-person meetings are permitted, but should be limited in frequency, duration and number of attendees. In such meetings, face coverings must be utilized and the meeting space sufficient to satisfy the 6-foot distancing rule. Preferably telephones, teleconferences and video conferencing should be used.
- Personal Hygiene – Frequent hand-washing with soap and water is required. Vigorous washing for no less than 20 seconds is recommended. If available, hand sanitizers also should be frequently used. Coughs and sneezes should be covered. Civil Service will soon provide a training video on this issue.
- Elevators – Facial coverings are to be worn while using the elevator. Usage should be limited to two individuals at any one time. Although this limitation may be inconveniencing, it should not be problematic while the workforce is limited. Additionally, employees should exercise appropriate physical distancing while waiting for the elevator.
- Surface Cleaning – Prison Enterprises and contract personnel will continue to provide regular housekeeping/janitorial services, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched areas and surfaces in high-use areas. Upon being informed that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, utilize the existing protocol in place to have the Office of State Buildings coordinate the cleaning and sanitizing of the employee’s work space and common areas.
- Travel – International travel for business purposes remains prohibited. Domestic travel beyond the State of Louisiana by air or vehicle for business purposes requires my prior approval. In-state travel should be limited to business necessity. Where required, only two employees per vehicle is permissible, with the occupants required to wear facial covering at all times.
Avoid touching your face
Avoid handshakes and hugs
Avoid touching frequently used objects and surfaces
Avoid sharing cellphones, pens, computers and work areas
Avoid sharing papers and physical objects during meetings
There are some of you who will read this information and think “that’s too restrictive” and some who will think “that’s not enough.” Whichever way you feel, as we come back into the office, I am reminded of the simplest rule, “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Now, more than ever, is the time to think about others and to simply be kind to each other. Kindness goes a long way when people are stressed, and y’all, we are ALL stressed right now!!! So let’s be who we are, kind people, who care for other people. And while we are in these next two weeks of slowly building back our office presence, let’s continue to be comfortable in jeans!
DCFS Stay At Home Order Survey
May 1, 2020
We are preparing for the end of the stay-at-home order. To ramp up, we need your help and insights.
We’re asking for you to take a brief survey. Your input in the survey is not to take the place of providing information to your supervisor. It is for the executive team to get some information to assist with making a few decisions.
Here’s a link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BR56VF3. It will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, so please respond as soon as possible. Thank you for all you do for Louisiana’s children and families.
Planning a Return to “Normal”
April 30, 2020
What a crazy world we live in! I pray you have stayed well as we have lived in these stay-at-home days and have found some time while you were in this new way of work to enjoy some of the beautiful weather we have had across our state. But not all of us have had good weather. There have been storms across the state, with severe weather for multiple areas. Isn’t that true for life? Beautiful days and stormy weather seem to be able to co-exist in our daily lives as well.
As we prepare for our recovery, there are millions of questions, fears and anxieties for all of us. As excited as we are to begin to return to “normal,” we are still in a pandemic, and the anxiousness that we first experienced will surface again, if it ever really went away. Many of you have loved working from home, and many of you have hated it. Some of you have been in the office all along. Some of you worked on emergency response and did things you never expected to do. Some of you went to help the overloaded Economic Stability staff to help process the almost 200,000 SNAP applications we received since the crisis began. What amazing work our ES staff and ES staff “helpers” have done!! I’m so very proud of them – through long hours, weekend work, the constantly changing rules, responding to customer service center calls, emails, and social media postings, and the pressure to move applications to get food to people who are hungry and scared. On behalf of all the people you helped who will never know your name, blessings to you all and deep, heartfelt gratitude to each of you who participated in the SNAP world over the past 6 weeks.
So as I look forward, I am sure of ONE thing: IT WON’T BE EASY! So I’m asking for your prayers, some grace, and a lot of patience as we try to define the best way for DCFS staff to return to the office. In the coming days we will be finalizing plans and giving guidance through the RAs and ADs. We will try to keep you as “in the know” as we are. Things are moving very quickly (aren’t they always?) and I admit I have received some conflicting information, so please hang in there, and we will get information to you as quickly as we can. One thing that won’t change: my gratitude for each of you and the work you do every day to help the children and families of this state.
We Welcome New DCFS Assistant Secretary for Family Support, Shavana Howard
April 13, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
It’s not the way we like to welcome new members of our team – and it certainly wouldn’t fit anyone’s definition of Southern hospitality – but we find ourselves welcoming the newest member of our Executive Team to the department and to Louisiana via phone calls and web conferences. Our new DCFS Assistant Secretary for Family Support, Shavana Howard, comes to us from Washington State, and while we’d prefer to have her meet everyone in person, for a while, anyway, we’ll have to settle for getting to know each other from a safe social distance.
Shavana comes to us from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, where she specialized in TANF, SNAP and USDA-funded workforce programs like the SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) Program. In addition to her state service, she served six years as an enlisted Petty Officer in the United States Navy Reserve.
As you may know, last year we identified the expansion of workforce initiatives like SNAP E&T as essential to moving Louisiana’s most vulnerable individuals and families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. As we embarked on our journey to identify models to learn about best practices, our federal partners pointed us to Shavana and her team for guidance. We’re pleased to have her insights and energy as leader of the Family Support Division. We’ve been proud to share with her what an experienced, accomplished and hardworking team DCFS has in Family Support. I know she’s looking forward to working with all of you.
When we are all together again, we will welcome Shavana to Louisiana properly in person. In the meantime, many of you will be hearing from her more directly by phone and email as she catches up on all the great work underway to serve families.
Come to think of it, it’s actually fitting that Shavana is joining DCFS at this time. Few of us started our service in “blue skies.” This is what we do as an agency on a regular basis – and especially during disasters. We dive in to serve Louisiana families at times of greatest need. That’s who we are. I’m so proud to serve you as your Secretary.
Be Safe. Be Well
April 3, 2020
Dear DCFS Family,
As we end week three of this "virus world" we now live in, I just want to say how much I appreciate each of you.
DCFS staff have done heroes’ work over these past weeks! We have staff excelling in our State Office and our Emergency Operation Center (EOC), on the front lines investigating child abuse, keeping foster placements stable, managing the LITE and CCWIS projects, processing child support payments, staffing the state camp grounds with the homeless populations, and running the EOC at the Morial Convention Center. And then there are the Family Support staffers who have taken in more SNAP cases in 4 days than ever in our recent history. (Thanks to all throughout the FS Division who have jumped in to assist!) All I can say is WOW. I am so impressed by you all. There aren't enough words in my vocabulary to express my gratitude and appreciation for your commitment to the families we serve -- to helping people get food, to stabilizing homes, to stepping in to give people shelter in this uncertain and scary time, I am just simply awed by your good works.
I know the work goes on 24/7. I am acutely aware that we cannot just shut down and take the weekend off. (I wish I could wave a magic wand to let that happen, but I can't.) What I can do is say, please take any moment you can to get outside, to rest, to be with someone you love and hold dear, to breathe some clean air and see the sun, or the moon, and just BE. Breathe. Be still and listen to that inner voice that says you are worthy, you do good work, you are valued, you are needed, you are loved.
Please take some time to feed your spirit. Listen to music, read a poem, take a walk, eat some chocolate. Just be good to yourself for a few moments. This what I wish for each of you. Take good care of yourselves. Be safe. Be well.
Remote Working for All DCFS Staff as We Fight COVID-19
March 20, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
We're all looking for answers and some sort of solace in these uncertain times. What touches my heart might not touch yours. What gives me comfort might not be what comforts you. But ALL of us need comfort and a way to take care of ourselves in the midst of this coronavirus crisis. I can't stress enough how important it is to take care of yourselves — physically, mentally, emotionally. That’s why, in keeping with the Governor’s wishes and in an abundance of caution, I have decided to order all of you to work remotely, except those who are ESF-6.
It’s important that you stay in touch. I encourage you to check in daily with supervisors. We’ll post updates to the new staff page on our website. You should bookmark it and check it frequently.
As I sit in my home office, trying to “practice what I preach,” I find myself feeling disconnected and wanting to be with my team. I want to see them, sit with them to problem solve and watch them process information.
Togetherness is important to a lot of us. But starting Monday, I’m asking you to stay home and work remotely as we try to fight this COVID-19 outbreak in our state.
This is uncharted territory for all of us. We have to continue to support each other, use every precaution, and let’s remember our friends and colleagues who have been affected by the virus. My prayer is that you’ll all be well.
I couldn’t be prouder to be your Secretary. Thank you for all you do for Louisiana’s children and families.
The Louisiana Department of Health Keep Calm Through COVID crisis phone line provides trained, compassionate counselors to support Louisianans through this difficult time. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with information and service coordination, linking callers to mental health and substance abuse counseling services. This service is available to the public at no charge. Find out more at http://ldh.la.gov/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/5492.
Connecting with You in a New Way
March 19, 2020
With the rapidly developing COVID-19 crisis, I know you’ve all been busy figuring out how to manage your professional obligations along with all of your personal pressures in this challenging time. I appreciate everything you’re doing and how difficult all of this is.
I have been meeting with leadership teams, the Governor and the Cabinet in Unified Command Group briefings, as we continue to seek the best ways to manage this crisis. Our Emergency Preparedness teams are leading the housing efforts. We’re starting to work on disaster assistance and figure out what that might look like following the passage of a relief bill in Congress. We’re answering lots of constituent requests throughout the department. Thank you for all of your efforts in continuing to manage the workflow throughout this evolving situation, including dealing with the computer issues we continue to have while working remotely.
Because I want you all to have the most up-to-date information, I’d love to be able to do a message every day. But since I can’t sustain that, we’re going to be giving updates through a new webpage that our great communications team has created, and that is where you can find information as this situation continues to unfold. The link is www.dcfs.la.gov/page/dcfs-covid19-updates-employees-only. Bookmark it now and check it regularly. You can also access it from the Employees Only page on our DCFS website. We will also be periodically sending out newsletters that round up recent updates, along with resources and other helpful information.
As we continue our work in caring for the children and families of this state, please remember to take care of yourselves and your families as well. You are valuable beyond measure.
Closing Lobbies to Visitors
March 16, 2020
Starting tomorrow (Tuesday, March 17), and until further notice, we will be closing our lobbies to visitors and inviting them to reach out to us only by phone, email and online, in light of the evolving situation with COVID-19 and in order to limit potential exposure for staff and clients.
We will be putting out a press release and social media, and communicating with our community partners and other stakeholders, to let everyone know about this update to our office status.
On another note, we realize some staff are experiencing challenges using VPN. More information about VPN including helpful tips will be coming soon.
Also, because COVID-19 crisis is stressful enough and most meetings are canceled, let’s wear jeans until further notice. Usual exceptions apply.
Thank you for all you do.
Implementing Remote Work for Some Employees
March 15, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
As the world focuses on the rapidly developing COVID-19 crisis, Governor Edwards and the administration are working quickly to help contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the virus in Louisiana. The situation is moving faster than anyone could have imagined. As I write this message, Governor Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health are reporting 103 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 and 2 deaths.
These developments have forced us to take aggressive measures to protect our staff and clients, while maintaining the productivity our mission requires.
Beginning tomorrow, we will institute 100 percent “remote work from home” in the Orleans Region, which has seen the bulk of COVID-19 cases. Please note this is not “office closure”. Though the sites of the Orleans Regional offices will not be open to the public, our work will continue, as we know many of the children and families we serve find themselves even more vulnerable at times like this. We are using all of our resources to direct the public to apply for services electronically and through our hotlines. All other offices will remain open, with a reduced staff and a majority of staff authorized to work remotely. Who is to begin working remotely and who will be working at the office will be decided by your appointing authority and will be communicated by your management.
Unless you have been notified otherwise, report to work as usual Monday morning to get your instructions. Please work with your supervisor, and let’s be patient with each other as this all works through. This is new to all of us.
There will be two memoranda coming out very soon to cover this matter. Please pay careful attention to them and check in regularly with your supervisor.
I know this crisis has created special concerns for many of you and your families. Please communicate these with your supervisors. We’ll get through this, but it’s important for all of us to work together.
Thank you for all you do for Louisiana’s children and families.
Wishing You Comfort in Stressful Times
March 11, 2020
Dear DCFS Team,
What a week it's been, and it's only Wednesday! With the legislative session opening on Monday with the Governor's announcement that Louisiana has its first case of the coronavirus, followed quickly by several more (nine, at this point in time), it feels overwhelming. Questions run through your mind: "What if I get sick? What if my mother/father/uncle/husband/friend/neighbor gets sick?" We are all worried about those we love and about those we serve.
In times like this we often turn to our respective faiths, maybe to music, to places of solitude or practices of meditation and quiet reflection. My hope and prayer for you all is that you find that place/space/thing that gives you comfort and peace.
We are not in a place to panic. I believe it will get worse, and I know that DCFS is the most prepared department in the state to manage our staff's needs. We already have all staff on laptops, giving us the ability, if needed, to let affected or high-risk staff work from home. We already practice good emergency preparedness, and our LAMs are having weekly calls. Our executive team is meeting, as needed, to huddle on any new information, and we are on the Governorâ€™s task force, where we receive the most updated information as it comes out. It is moving quickly, but we are prepared.
The awareness of all of this preparation gives me comfort. My heart is comforted by other things, like the March litany in my little church that says, "We affirm our togetherness, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen and our strength too limited to do all that must be done." Wow. I canâ€™t tell you the number of times my colleagues have to help me understand the bigger picture of an issue! My vision is often "too narrow to see all that must be seen." I'm so grateful to the colleagues, friends, guides and wise voices in my life that help me expand my vision and understanding. How sad and lonely it would be if I didnâ€™t have them in my life. And how critical they are in times of crisis, to help me see all the complex pieces and parts of the issues that confront us.
I believe that each of us are called to be the light of love and compassion for others. Especially in times of fear, anxiety, stress and concerns, we all need that spirit around us. While we all struggle to find our way with this new challenge in our world, my prayer for all of you is one of gratitude for your compassion and service. I hope you all remember to be a light of kindness and compassion for others and that you are all surrounded by that light of love that we all need and deserve.
Follow Expert Advice on Staying Healthy, Preventing Coronavirus Spread
March 09, 2020
With coronavirus reaching the United States, we're bombarded constantly with information about it. Unfortunately, that information can sometimes be conflicting or confusing. So let's follow the best information out there: Louisiana's Office of Public Health is on this - as is the Governor's Office - providing up-to-date information about the virus and how to prevent its spread. You can also follow the Centers for Disease Control for the latest information at the national level. We've linked to them from a new Coronavirus page on our website.
What we're hearing from the experts is that the best methods for preventing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) are also the simplest. In fact, they're the same methods recommended with the flu:
- If you're sick, stay home. Not only will that help prevent other people from getting sick, it will also allow you to get the rest you need to fully recover.
- Wash your hands. Something I've learned is to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice while I soap and rinse. That's just the right amount of time to make sure the germs are gone when you're done. So if you see me or one of your co-workers singing at the sink, feel free to join in!
- Cover your cough or sneeze. Using the crook of your elbow, rather than your hand, is best. You're less likely to deposit those germs somewhere else if they're not on your hands.
The Governor has created a COVID-19 Task Force to lead the state's planning on this issue, and DCFS serves on that group. One of the first steps was to ensure all agencies review and update their Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) - just one more reason I am so thankful and proud of all the work we have done over the past couple of years to review, workshop and update our own COOP plans. As the Task Force work continues, we will keep you posted on any updates.
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Louisiana thus far, and I remain hopeful. For now, let's wait and be smart: Listen to authorities (OPH, Governor's Office, CDC), follow their advice and take care of yourselves so you can stay well. You are valuable beyond measure.
We'll keep you posted.