In 2012, Waupaca County's health and human services department was hemorrhaging employees, particularly within its child protection and juvenile justice programs.
"There was just a lot of turnover," said Chuck Price, who took over as director of the department around that time. "We needed a culture of change."
Price and his colleague, deputy director Shannon Kelly, recalled a culture that seemed to place a higher value on bureaucratic outcomes than on fostering positive human connections. Such a mindset was not unique to Waupaca County, they added. Rather, it reflected a distinctly harsh form of human services that, in their view, had been baked into public agencies nationwide over decades.
"Human services [and] child welfare were initially set up to sustain the system," Kelly said, referring to the laws and regulations on which these services are built. "[They] were not necessarily built to support people."
That reality was starkly evident to Price, who watched as stressed and burned out employees called it quits with disturbing regularity, while the county residents they served continued to require high levels of care.
"I knew we were going to have to make some changes in Waupaca County," he said. "We needed to bring the 'human' back to human services."
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