16th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
ACYF Commissioner's Award Book
Ray Pillidge, Area Director, faced a challenge when he assumed responsibility for the Lawrence Area Office of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services two years ago. The 18th poorest city in the United States, Lawrence is an old industrial city, which lost its industrial base, and home to an exceedingly poor and largely Latino population. Historically, the poor populations of Lawrence have viewed the Department of Social Services as adversarial to its interests and threatening to its families.
To develop the Area Office‘s relationships with its community and play a role that the community perceived as supportive to the welfare of its children, Mr. Pillidge focused on two initiatives: increasing significantly the bilingual/bicultural representation of Lawrence Area Office staff and developing a strategic planning process to engage important leaders in the Lawrence community. In the two years he has been in the Lawrence Office, Mr. Pillidge significantly increased the bilingual/bicultural staff to 80 percent or 30 of 37 new hires. At the same time, the strategic planning process began to evolve a new concept of the DSS role in the Lawrence community, i.e., DSS would work to become an ally in the Lawrence community‘s development efforts.
In pursuit of the role of ally, the Lawrence Department of Social Services, with the support of the Department‘s Planning and Program Development Division, is developing a Planned Approach to Community Health (PATCH) site in Lawrence. The Office has partnered with a church in one of Lawrence‘s poorest neighborhoods to locate DSS staff and nonprofit agencies in the church‘s space. The neighborhood was selected on the basis of the activism of a neighborhood parent group in regard to the educational needs of their children rather than solely on the basis of the poverty level in the community. The PATCH office intends to work to ally with the neighborhood regarding its concern for the welfare of its children and to embed its child welfare work in the fabric of the community.
Mr. Pillidge assumes a leading and pivotal role in Lawrence‘s exciting process of redefining the relationship of child welfare to the community. The State of Massachusetts looks to Lawrence as an important learning opportunity in the State‘s effort to create a new model of child welfare practice.