New DHS Director Named

New DHS Director Named

Debra Collins takes helm in September.

After an 11-month national search, Debra Collins has been named as the new director of Alexandria’s Department of Human Services.

City Manager Philip G. Sunderland made the announcement earlier this week. “Debra Collins has a strong background in many of the program areas that are part of Alexandria’s Department of Human Services,” Sunderland said. “A significant amount of her work has been with nonprofit and community groups. I believe that Ms. Collins will bring the vision, management and program expertise needed to lead the Department of Human Services.”

The DHS vacancy was created last September when Sunderland reassigned Meg O’Regan who was the director of the department. He made this move after two years of turmoil at DHS that began with the death of three-year-old Katelynn Frazier just three months after the child was returned to her biological mother.

At the time of Katelynn’s death, the family was under the supervision of DHS social workers. Katelynn’s biological mother and the mother’s boyfriend are both serving time in prison for Katelynn’s murder.

Since last September, Beverly Steele has been the interim director at DHS. “We are very pleased that Debra will be assuming the position as director at DHS,” Steele said. “We were very fortunate that we had two outstanding finalists for this job. While either of them could have performed the duties exceptionally well, we felt that Debra was the best fit. She comes to us with a wealth of experience in a number of areas that are integral to the department, including experience with model courts. We look forward to having her here.”

THE STAFF at DHS played an important role in Collins’ selection. After a committee had selected two finalists, each division within DHS selected a committee of 10-12 people and developed a series of questions for the candidates.

“Each candidate spent about an hour and a half with each of these three committees,” Steele said. “After the committees had an opportunity to interview the candidate, I talked with the committees and got their comments to the city manager before he met with the candidate. Each of the two finalists spent about eight hours in interviews with the staff and then with the city manager, so it was a very full day.”

Collins has worked for the Erie County, N.Y., Department of Social Services since June of 1995. She was appointed to her current position, Second Deputy Commissioner, in 2001. As such, she is third in command over a staff of 1,760 employees and has responsibility for a $414 million budget.

She has direct supervision of 400 employees in the areas of child and adult protection, foster care, adoption, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and preventive services. She is also involved in community legislative and judicial partnerships. Prior to her current position, Collins had supervision over public affairs for the department and public assistance intake as well as being a liaison to the Erie County legislature.

BEFORE GOING to the Erie County Department of Social Services, Collins worked for the YWCA of Western New York as the director of housing, was a coordinator of programs for at-risk youth at the nonprofit St. Augustine Center, and has been involved in programs for the homeless. Collins holds a masters of arts degree in English from Buffalo State College and a bachelor of arts degree in English from Canisius College.

“Her resume certainly looks good and we are looking forward to having her here,” said Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “We’ll have to wait and see how things go.”

Collins will begin her new duties in Alexandria in September.