16th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
ACYF Commissioner's Award Book
The leadership and passion of Helene Nelson during her four-year tenure as Secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Health and Family Service generated momentum among county child welfare agencies to build a statewide response to the Federal Child and Family Services Review. Under her direction, the Department initiated an extraordinary collaboration with county and tribal child welfare agencies that led to joint ownership of a plan to improve the quality of child services, resulting in substantive change.
Secretary Nelson successfully led Wisconsin through its two-year Program Enhancement Plan, including the development of the State's first continuous quality improvement system. Wisconsin chose the Quality Services Review (QSR) process to measure the quality and effectiveness of child welfare services on a statewide basis. As part of the QSR process, Wisconsin developed a peer reviewer system to allow for county Child Protective Services staff to participate in reviews in other counties. Additionally, a partnership was established between the Continuous Quality Improvement Program and the Children's Court Initiative, providing opportunities for improving outcomes in the county child welfare and court systems.
Ms. Nelson has championed key policy initiatives aimed at strengthening families, including universal and targeted home visiting for families at risk of child abuse and neglect. All aspects of her work in child welfare reflect her ongoing commitment to collaboration between systems. She strove to integrate in the daily task of child welfare the work of other systems so that the child welfare system could help families keep their children safely at home, while receiving the necessary and appropriate services to stabilize their circumstances. Families Forward, an initiative successfully implemented under her leadership, aimed to better serve families involved in multiple State systems, specifically child welfare and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, as well as substance abuse and mental health treatment systems.
Prior to her appointment as Department Secretary, Ms. Nelson worked for nine years in Dane County government, including four years as its Director of Human Services. She drew consistently upon her county experience to foster improved working relationships between State and local governments. Joining Forces for Families, one of her initiatives, brought together child welfare, school, and law enforcement personnel on behalf of struggling families in an innovative, multidisciplinary, and geographic-based team approach to supporting families.