Samuels Tapped to Head Administration on Children, Youth and Families

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President Barack Obama has tapped a veteran Chicago youth services leader to run the Administration on Children, Youth and Families – a federal agency expected to play a key role in holding state foster care systems accountable and fostering child welfare reform.

Bryan H. Samuels, the nominee, is a former director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and a former top aide to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when Duncan led Chicago Public Schools.

Samuels is regarded as an effective child welfare administrator who relies as much on studies and research in making decisions as he does on his own experience growing up at a residential school from age 7 on.

"You don't get people with his background and his abilities in that position," said Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago.

"He really understood the issues because he lived it," Wuest said.

Samuels ran the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from 2003 to 2006. During that time, those familiar with his work say, he helped continue to reduce caseloads and the number of children in state care - a trend initiated by his predecessor, Jess McDonald.

Mark Courtney, a University of Washington social work professor who knew Samuels  when they both taught at the University of Chicago, credited Samuels with making the government a better and more caring parent for children in long-term care.

"I would say that Bryan Samuels is one of the first public child welfare administrators in the country to make child well-being a major focus of the child welfare system," Courtney said, explaining that, historically, child welfare administrators have focused mostly on safety and permanency.

"Taking care of children, focusing on what their needs are while in care, was something Bryan focused on and he was very successful at it," Courtney said.

Part of the reason, Courtney and others say, is because of Samuels' experience growing up at a residential school for children.

The White House said as much in a statement about Samuels.

"His commitment to public service is largely motivated by his own success in overcoming great personal hardship during his eleven and half years of growing up in a residential school for disadvantaged children," a White House statement stated. "This experience helped shape his commitment to serve children who lived in foster care and reinforced his belief that dedicated people and well-designed programs can make a dramatic impact on the lives of at-risk youth."

As director of Illinois DCFS, the White House said, Samuels accomplished a number of systemic reforms. They included implementing comprehensive assessments of all children entering care, redesigning transitional and independent living programs, and creating a "child location unit" to track all runaway youth.

He also helped the agency establish what the White House said were the "lowest caseload ratios for case managers in the nation" and decreased the use of residential treatment or group homes by 20 percent.

Samuels taught at University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. He holds a Master's Degree from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor's of Arts Degree from the University of Notre Dame.

The Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) is part of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

ACF oversees a wide swath of entitlements and domestic programs. ACYF oversees two of those programs: The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and the Children's Bureau.

The Children's Bureau manages the matching funds that go to states for child welfare services, chief among them the Title IV-E foster care funds. Children's Bureau also oversees the adoption incentive and assistance programs, and conducts Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR) of the 50 states child welfare systems.

Many of these operations will come sharply into focus during Obama's tenure. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoption Act makes significant changes to how states can use federal funds, but that process needs clarifying.

Every state failed its first CFSR, submitted a program improvement plan, and some have already failed again in the second round. It will likely fall to Obama's Children's Bureau to put teeth to that review process and actually penalize states for not improving. And that won't be popular, because there are plenty of advocates who think the CFSR methodology is far from flawless.

FYSB funds ventures including youth development, services to homeless and runaway youth, abstinence education and mentoring children of prisoners. The budget quadrupled to more than $350 million under former President George W. Bush. 

  • Emma

    With what I have learned about IL DCFS during the period when Samuels was in charge, I do not expect this to be a slam dunk confirmation. He may not be directly responsible for the shenanigans that went on but they happened on his watch.

  • Bill Medvecky

    Emma, Please expand on your comment. Send them to:

    We plan on writing to this man, so we want to know what we’re dealing with.

    Reforming CPS and eliminating the “Mondale” Act is critical to stop CPS from abusing and kidnapping children nation-wide.

  • Diane L. Redleaf

    I took Bryan Samuels deposition in Dupuy v. Samuels and I was both impressed and dismayed by much of what he said.  I was impress by his cageyness. I was dismayed by his unwillingness to take any stance against the rampant threats that investigators make to take childen from their parents in order to get safety plan agreements and I was also distressed that he stated with pride that under his watch DCFS had not made any affirmative rule change proposals–with rules being the key way to make permanent legal policy changes.  Children now are removed in Illinois and taken to doctors for assessments and then brought back to the homes they were transferred into all without any judicial oversight.  It concerns me that these practices may become even more prevalent going forward as Samuels sees no legal problems with the removal of children into non-parental homes without judicial oversight as long as it is called “voluntary.



  • amanda moren

    I have worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for the past 16 years in Child Protection and Child Welfare services. My greatest expierence working for the department was under the guidance and leadership of the greatest Director ILDCFS has ever employeed, Bryan Samuels. He cared like no other, genuine in his thoughts and actions. Bryan Samules lead by example and his attitude toward giving the best for children and families was real. Mr. Samuels made me proud to work for DCFS. He is one of a kind, the type of person that only comes around once in a lifetime.

  • Grammy

    I, too, am concerned about the choice made by President Obama.  As it stands now, children are removed from their homes without any judicial oversight.  Parents are told that their children are being taken and if they obtain a lawyer, they may never see their children again.  I know this because it happened to my family.  In our case three investigative agencies, the police, sheriff’s office and the coroner’s office, cleared us of any wrong doing and then DCFS came a day later to torture the family further with accusations and threats of child removal while we were planning the funeral. 

     If Mr. Samuels is still unwilling to take a stance against this blatant abuse of parental civil rights, he should not be confirmed to head the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.  If by chance he is confirmed, he will also need to concentrate on the case workers and their supervisors who continue to milk the system by falsifying records.  A copy of the Illinois Report to the Governor and the General Assembly January 2010 bears this out.  The link is:

     If Mr. Samuels is in charge, will what happened on page 105, General Investigation #8 continue to happen?  Not only was this family abused, but the taxpayers who are ravaged by the lawlessness of public servants such as these were abused as well.  I believe a complete overhaul of the system is in order.  I hope Mr. Samuels is up to it.