Secretary Brown Steps Down from Role at Oklahoma Department of Human Services
OKLAHOMA CITY (July 29, 2022) — Justin Brown announced today he will step down from leading the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) where he has served as director for the past three years. During his appointment, Brown has transformed the agency through an intense focus on transparency and innovation – each built on a commitment to improve the trajectory of Oklahoma families. Brown will continue to serve as the Secretary of the Human Services Cabinet.
Immediately upon joining the agency, Brown worked with program experts to build True North, which prioritizes the agency’s resources, work and focus. True North has served the agency and citizens of the state of Oklahoma incredibly well and has been the foundation of Brown’s many successes.
When Brown joined the agency, there were several large-scale and long-standing issues which had challenged prior leaders. One of the most significant in 2019 was a massive child welfare system reform born out of federal class action litigation, known as the Pinnacle Plan. The Pinnacle Plan was seven years underway when Brown stepped into his role.
The Pinnacle Plan was a first-of-its-kind settlement agreement to make significant reforms in how the state child welfare system served kids and families. The focus of Pinnacle Plan includes improving maltreatment in care, case worker ratios, foster care home recruitment, placement stability for kids, permanency timelines and eliminating the use of shelter care for very young children. With a clear direction for the future, Brown quickly identified a leader he believed would lead the charge and lead it well.
“I knew almost immediately after meeting Dr. Deb Shropshire that the Child Welfare system needed her leadership. I have been incredibly honored to get to work alongside her and the amazing Oklahoma Child Welfare team. Oklahoma’s child welfare system has evolved to be a self-correcting and constantly improving system that works on behalf of Oklahoma children to build families in a way that honors biological and foster families alike,” stated Secretary Brown.
The validation of this reform and the success of the system redesign comes in the way of the semi-annual commentaries, which serve as the state’s report card from the third-party monitors called the Co-Neutrals. OKDHS has received good faith efforts on all 23 non-COVID impacted Pinnacle Plan measures since Brown and Shropshire have been in their respective leadership roles.
In addition to the child welfare litigation, the agency had a decades-long wait for services for thousands of Oklahoman’s with developmental disabilities. Brown led a team that laid an incredible foundation to build a sophisticated and data-informed plan to deliver these much-needed services to more than 5,000 people who had waited 13 years or longer for help. For the first time since the development of home and community-based services in the 1980’s, Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma legislature had the confidence in the OKDHS leadership team’s ability to plan and execute total elimination in a 24-month period, and invested $32.5 million dollars to clear the entire list for all people waiting.
During his tenure, many fiscally responsible and transparent initiatives were instituted and have yielded tremendous results. For example, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Investment Strategy was born through a thorough review of the financial position of the agency that presented a tremendous opportunity to invest long-standing, underinvested federal dollars in services for low-income families to elevate their ability to keep their families intact and provide the best opportunity for generational stability and self-sufficiency through collaborative, public-private partnerships. Through the TANF Investment Strategy and a competitive bid process (RFP), in December of 2021, OKDHS selected sixteen programs focused on strengthening family stability to receive approximately $27 million over a three-year period to expand programming and reach within the communities they serve. This funding placed Oklahoma on the national forefront of how to utilize these dollars in a collaborative and meaningful way in communities. In the coming months, OKDHS will award round two of the TANF Investment Strategy focused on investing in Oklahoma’s youth.
An ongoing modernization of the OKDHS’ real estate footprint has positioned the agency to be even more fiscally efficient while having additional access points for Oklahomans by embedding its workforce with community partners and in locations people frequent. OKDHS traded in oversized buildings for intentionally designed, strategically located spaces that help move upstream and deliver services to Oklahomans where they are. These retail, trauma-informed child welfare spaces, and collaborative administrative hubs show the value OKDHS places on both the state’s citizens and its workforce. The effort reduced square footage and increased access points while decreasing administrative costs.
When Brown came to the agency, both payroll and expenditures were processed outside of the state’s system on antiquated technology. For more than a decade, no one had addressed the monumental work to shift these legacy systems, knowing that they provide direct assistance to so many Oklahomans. Within the first year, OKDHS had migrated to the State’s HR system providing a more stable platform to process payroll while also saving more than a million dollars in administrative costs. Immediately after this project was successfully completed, work began to move to the State’s financial system, allowing for the first-time full transparency into the financials of the complex agency.
Recognizing OKDHS is the front-line agency that stands up when people are down, Brown also placed importance throughout his tenure on supporting the workforce that makes these critical safety net programs happen.
“I’m deeply appreciative of Governor Kevin Stitt’s appointment to this position,” said Brown. “It has been my great honor to have the opportunity to serve alongside some of the most kind-hearted people, who are also warriors for vulnerable children and adults. I also can’t say enough to convey my genuine thanks to our state legislative partners for their support these last three years.”
“I can honestly say that this experience, of serving in this capacity at OKDHS, has changed my life. As much as I wanted to bring healthy change and growth to this agency and to help Oklahomans through the power of hope and dignity, what I’ve received from this season will be something I carry with me for a lifetime.”