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Good morning, Chairman Scutari, Vice Chair Gill, and distinguished members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today regarding our shared commitment and responsibility to protect New Jersey’s children and strengthen families in the Garden State.

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Governor Phil Murphy for nominating me to serve in the position of Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.

Having served in various capacities within New Jersey’s child welfare system throughout my career – beginning as an intern in the Red Bank DYFS office – it is truly an honor to be able to return to my roots in the public sector and work with my colleagues in service to New Jersey’s youth and families.

I would also like to acknowledge my husband, Mike Beyer, who’s in attendance today to provide moral support in this next phase of my career.

Since January 16, my first day in the role of Acting Commissioner, I’ve been repeatedly asked, “How are you doing?” “How’s it going?” “Are you glad to be back?” And simply – “Why?”

My response to all of the questions is the same: I’m excited, I’m energized, and I’m glad to be back serving at the Department that I love, doing the work that I love.  Finally, I’m humbled to be the servant-leader to a committed workforce that has my true admiration and respect.

The work we do at DCF is more than a job or a paycheck. It’s a calling to service. And so many of the wonderful people I’ve met throughout my career exemplify that spirit of service – the spirit that showcases the best of who we are as a state and a nation.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my career to learn from, and work with, some of the best minds in child welfare - people who are committed to making the world a better place for children. My previous 6 years at Casey Family Programs, the largest national foundation focused solely on child welfare, has equipped me with the knowledge and understanding of the most pressing and relevant issues facing child welfare today – and how to tackle those issues, head-on, to effect real change in the system.

This national perspective, coupled with the unique perspective and benefit of having worked in this system before – for 8 years, beginning at the start of the NJ child welfare reform effort in 2003 – prepares me to take on the challenge of leading the Department.  I’ve also had the opportunity to work for all 5 previous DCF Commissioners and Acting Commissioners as part of their Executive Management Teams. I know firsthand the Department’s history, where we were, where we are, and where we have the potential to go. 

While we have made great strides in transforming DCF, there is still so much we can do as an organization to support New Jersey’s youth and their families.

And no matter how flattered we are to hear other systems around the country touting our successes or holding New Jersey up as a national model in particular areas of practice, we cannot become complacent in our progress.

We have had much success, but compliance with a series of federally monitored child safety measures – while important – is not the only metric for success.

I’m excited for the opportunities we have here in New Jersey to grow and improve our system, with a focus on prevention strategies, protective factors, and enhanced outcomes for the children and families we serve.

We will continue our efforts to transform child welfare in the State of New Jersey, from responsive to proactive, from isolated to collaborative, so that we can empower families to succeed and guarantee the opportunity for a safe and happy childhood for New Jersey’s most vulnerable children.

We will make decisions based on data analysis and best and promising practices, with the end goal being the best possible outcome for the families with whom we interact.

We will promote primary prevention strategies that make a difference for families before a crisis occurs, rather than waiting to respond after the crisis.

We will look at our work through a trauma-informed lens, to promote better engagement and understanding, so that we can better connect more genuinely to the families we serve.

Taking a trauma-informed approach to child welfare is about recognizing the cumulative impact of trauma and toxic stress in shaping a person and their worldview.

And if we’re going to have any hope of ending the generational cycle of abuse and neglect, and eliminating child abuse and neglect fatalities, it starts with effectively treating individual and family trauma.

We’re in the process of developing strategies to address Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, and the long-term health and wellness impact that these can have on children who experience high rates of adversity.

And we will look to support the creation of a 21st Century Child Welfare System in New Jersey – one in which the family has a true voice in the work, and one in which we partner across all 3 branches of government, with stakeholders and local municipalities, to give families the resources and opportunities they need to be successful.

We recognize that none of this work happens in a vacuum.

In order to become the 21st century model that New Jersey’s children and families deserve, it takes the vision, dedication and hard work of all of us – caseworkers, lawmakers, service providers, advocacy agencies and more – to move from the policies of the past to find a new way forward.

As long as one child lives in the shadow of abuse or neglect, that is one child too many.

And as long as one family struggles to find a place of stability and healing, our work is not yet done.

While we have come a long way on our journey to build a more functional and more complete child welfare safety net, we recognize there is still more to do.

As I said before, I’m excited for these opportunities, because, while I know it won’t necessarily happen overnight, I have never shied away from working hard for children and families, particularly when it involves building our capacity to be better.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I look forward to working with you all toward these goals. Thank you for your consideration. I’m happy to respond to your questions.


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