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 DHS News January 2014     


Casey Family Programs Honors Marc Cherna with Lifetime Achievement Award For Excellence In Child Welfare Leadership

Marc ChernaMarc Cherna might have received a lifetime achievement award, but he hopes it’s not seen as an exclusive honor. “I’ve always viewed this work as a team effort,” said the Director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS).  “You’re only as good as the folks you have working for and with you.”

Casey Family Programs, the nation's largest foundation focused solely on safely reducing the need for foster care and building Communities of Hope for vulnerable children and families across America, has given its first Casey Excellence in Lifetime Achievement Award to Marc, who has been working in the human services field for more than 40 years. He has led Allegheny County DHS since 1997 and our local child welfare system for almost 18 years.

The award was given for demonstrated leadership that improved outcomes in:

  • A safe reduction in the number of children under age 18 in foster care;
  • An increase in the percentage of exits to permanency;
  • An increase in the percentage of exits to reunification;
  • And being at or below the national standard, or decreasing, the rate of repeat maltreatment.

Also cited were leadership qualities such as aligning the agency’s initiatives and activities with its mission, goals and desired outcomes and ensuring work is value-driven and clearly outlined; developing a data-driven child welfare system; developing or sustaining reform that has led to improved outcomes for children and families; and demonstrating success in engaging with other systems involved in child welfare.

Although he said that being recognized for “excellence” by his peers on a national level is unexpected and humbling, Marc also indicated that, given how he views his role and that of the Department within the community, a high quality of work at DHS is to be expected.  “As public servants, our salaries are paid by our residents.  They always deserve our very best efforts and we should, individually, and collectively as a department, deliver excellence.  And, I am proud to say, our DHS staff members and our network of providers almost unfailingly meet this high standard.” 

Marc cites not only our collective commitment to excellence but the degree to which we are willing to partner, collaborate and interconnect as crucial to our reputation for an exemplary human services system. From the support of local government officials, to the foundation community, to individual caseworkers in the field, to the citizens the department serves, everyone plays a part in DHS’s achievement, Marc said. 

“One of the things that truly separates us here in Allegheny County is that we do have such great partnerships, public and private, formal and informal, large and small. We’re a very complex, big system and everyone has a part in its success. We also let others know of our methodologies – what has worked and what has not.  DHS’s mentoring of others in human services entities in other jurisdictions, in particular, has been innovative in a field where isolation can be the norm.  Department personnel routinely host professionals from around the world to learn about DHS’s practices, technology and innovations.” 

Discussing and sharing ideas and best practices is among the most gratifying aspects of the job for which Marc is being honored.  “I feel strongly that we need to share. It helps us do our job better, too,” he said.

Marc began working in human services as a youth worker, eventually earning a master’s degree in social work  and working over 13 years in New Jersey as part of a management team appointed by the Governor to fix the state’s child welfare system. After a national search Allegheny County officials tapped him to reform child welfare in 1996 and then a year later, consolidate human services in Allegheny County.

Although at points early on in his career he tried other related jobs, such as consulting, he came back to what he tells young people planning careers in social work to do: Follow their passion. “I like to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve made a positive difference,” he said.

In addition to passion, he added that empathy and an awareness of how quickly lives can change is also important in human services work. “I believe that you treat people the way that you want to be treated, and always stay humble in this job.  We all need assistance at some point in our lives and, when that occurs, we want to be treated with dignity and respect.  There is no one among us who has not needed services or has had a friend or relative who needed services at some point in their lives. So – it’s our obligation to recognize that and quickly respond with compassion and without judgment.”




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