Supervisors tap Social Services chief to lead troubled agency
Philip Browning, director of L.A. County’s Department of Public Social Services, has been tapped to serve as interim head of the child welfare department, the latest in a revolving door of leaders for the embattled agency.
Browning’s name was put forth Friday by county Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky and will be considered at the five-member board’s next meeting on Tuesday.
“Philip's leadership and management skills as a current department head qualify him to lead and manage [the Department of Children and Family Services] with a focus on improving outcomes for children and families while the county completes its search for a permanent director,” Antonovich said.
If approved by the board, Browning will take the interim position Sept. 16, when current director Jackie Contreras steps down. Contreras, who announced her resignation Monday,is the third director to leave DCFS in nine months.
The agency has come under harsh criticism and significant scrutiny after a Times investigation revealed that more than 70 children had died since 2008 of abuse or neglect after coming to the attention of social workers.
“Philip is one of the most gifted managers in local government today, and we're very fortunate that he's agreed to step in and accept this challenging responsibility,” Yaroslavsky said.
“One of the biggest problems DCFS has had is a lack of good management," the supervisor said. "And we needed someone who is both a visionary on child welfare issues and somebody who has the ability to execute a plan ... to protect the welfare of the children in its domain."
Yaroslavsky said Browning would be an interim director but is being given the authority to build a new management team to aggressively reshape the department. The supervisors have had difficulty finding a permanent candidate.
“He’s not going to be someone who is a caretaker. He’s going to be given the authority to do whatever he needs to do to turn this around,” Yaroslavsky said. “We’re asking him to put a team together, to hit the ground running to turn DCFS around in the right direction. I have a lot more confidence in him.”
Browning previously served as the first director of the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department and has also led child support programs in Alabama and the District of Columbia.
A spokesman from Antonovich’s office said Friday it has yet to be determined who will take over Browning’s position at the Department of Public Social Services.
The Board of Supervisors is still conducting a national search for a permanent replacement for the child welfare agency.
A spokesman for the department said earlier this week that Contreras did not leave because of the turmoil surrounding the agency. She will return to a job at the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs, a foundation focused on improving the child welfare system.
-- Kate Mather and Rong-Gong Lin II
Photo: Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich at a board meeting in 2005. Vince Compagnone / Los Angeles Times