I-TEAM: Another top leader at DCFS heads for the door amid agency controversy

Rhenda Hodnett, a top leader with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has...
Rhenda Hodnett, a top leader with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has announced she plans to retire at the end of the year.(WAFB)
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 6:03 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 10:21 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Rhenda Hodnett, a top leader with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has announced she plans to retire at the end of the year. This comes one week after the head of the agency, Secretary Marketa Walters, also announced a similar move.

In a letter to staff this week, Hodnett laid out her plans to staff members amid the department’s mishandling of a number of recent cases. Hodnett is the assistant secretary of child welfare and is specifically in charge of strategic planning, development and oversight of the state’s child welfare system.

The following is the letter Hodnett sent to staff members.

I am writing to let you all know that I will be submitting my intention to retire at the end of this year after more than 32 years of service to the mission of the Department of Children and Family Services. Although I initially intended to fulfill my commitment to a second term as the Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare, I have decided that for a multitude of reasons, the time has come for me to step away. The decision to retire is bittersweet - a heavy heart for all we have not yet been able to achieve, but a profound sense of pride for all we have been able to accomplish together.

When I accepted this position in 2016 the list of challenges was long. Together with my most trusted leadership team we identified 4 key areas of focus that were most fundamental to creating a strong child welfare system from which we could build. This included building a workforce of highly skilled and educated staff, dedicated to carrying out the best practices of child welfare; establishing a stronger partnership with foster and biological parents, all working together to meet the physical and emotional needs of the children in our custody; better outcomes for older youth in foster care; and an improvement in tools necessary to do our work safely, efficiently and effectively. In each of these areas we recorded significant progress yet there still is, and will always be, opportunity for improvement.

In preparing for a second term, we made a commitment to stay the course with our original areas of focus, while taking on two federal requirements; the Child and Family Service Review Program Improvement Plan (PIP), and implementation of Family First legislation. With laser focus, we achieved national recognition for the exceptional manner in which we designed, implemented and successfully completed our PIP, as well as successfully implementing the provisions of the Family First legislation. Neither effort was a small feat and everyone that had a part in accomplishing this work should be very proud. It was proof that this team has been able to shoot for the moon, and at the least, land among the stars. No doubt you will continue to do so as I leave you in the very capable hands of a committed and dedicated leadership and management team.

I am forever grateful to Secretary Walters for the unwavering confidence and support over the past seven years, and to the DCFS executive team for always being willing to assist child welfare, acknowledging that “it’s all about the children”. To those of you who showed up every day to give your best, whether it was in a direct practice role or administrative role, you are valued and appreciated; you truly are doing God’s work. And for the personal and professional relationships that have been developed over these years and the opportunity to lead this amazing team I say thank you - it has truly been an honor. There is no doubt that each and every day of my career has offered enormous challenges, yet the rewards always overshadowed those challenging times. It is my hope and prayer that each of you will experience that same satisfaction that only comes from giving your all to your life’s work. Take good care of yourselves.

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