Latisha Flesher knows a thing or two about Hall County. And she’s ready to bring that knowledge to bear as the new director of the local Division of Family and Children Services.
“I loved the active community we had here and how involved they are,” she said.
A major priority, based on her own experience and the need in the community, for Flesher is to grow the number of foster care homes in Hall, expand foster care services for Hispanics and increase the number of children who are either placed with relatives or with families living locally.
“I think our foster care workers do a very good job,” Flesher said.
There are currently about 270 Hall County children in foster care, but just 62 foster homes. About 25 percent of foster children are placed with relatives, but state officials are pushing to raise that figure to 50 percent.
Flesher said she believes Hall DFCS can meet that goal through better recruitment and retention of foster families and other efforts.
“We are increasing our adoption timeliness,” she said, as an example.
Flesher said DFCS will also be working with community leaders like Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Joe Diaz to recruit Hispanic families into the foster care network.
“We’ve seen an increase in Hispanic foster care children,” Flesher said, adding that there are currently 34 children who come from bilingual or Spanish-speaking only households.
There are just nine beds available for Hispanic foster children in Hall County.
Flesher said she will be personally active in foster parent association monthly meetings and conference calls to receive feedback on how to improve DFCS services.
Flesher began her career in child welfare working at a boys home in Southern California in the late 1990s. She got a behind-the-scenes look and “learned what a foster care case manager looked like,” Flesher said.
With that experience, Flesher went on to earn a master’s degree in social work. She previously worked at the Hall County DFCS from July 2015 to December 2016 as administer for foster care before moving into a role in another region.
The opportunity to now return to Hall County, where her husband works as a firefighter, is rewarding personally for that reason.
And Flesher said she also took the job to challenge herself professionally.
Another major goal for Flesher, she said, is to reduce employee turnover while retaining productive and accomplished case workers.
Last year, state officials approved a 19 percent increase in salaries for some DFCS workers, which Flesher said “has helped stabilize some of the turnover rate and has also opened up more qualified staff to come and apply.”
The local DFCS has added 19 case managers in recent weeks, which has helped reduce the caseload ratio from 25 to 1 to between 17 and 20 to 1. State officials are hoping to get that figure to 15 to 1.
Additionally, Flesher is working to maintain high morale among staff through work events, recognition of performance, celebrating divisionwide successes, and professional development and supportive work services to help employees with career advancement.
Flesher said she plans to develop a “new hire” focus group to involve staff in important decisions, while also conducting “stay interviews.”
“We have a lot of exit interviews,” but not the other way around, she said.
Planned renovations and additions to the local DFCS office on McEver Road could also help with staff retention by showing a commitment to improving work conditions and services for families in need.
The renovations will include better security for workers and clients, additional interview rooms, visitation rooms for families and shared work spaces.
“We are in a good position,” Flesher said.