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RETIREMENT JFS chief reflects on agency's successes



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Crawford plans to get in some fishing and do some traveling.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Delores Crawford says she'll probably be remembered for the mistakes she made, rather than her accomplishments as director of the county's Department of Human Services.

But Crawford, better known as "Dee," the first black woman to head a county agency, says that's all right.

"I know that I did my best, and that's all that really matters," said Crawford, who steps down Friday after a nearly nine-year stint as director.

Crawford, 60, has served as executive director of Jobs and Family Services, formerly known as the welfare department, since 1996, when she replaced Robert A. Douglas Jr., now a Youngstown Municipal Court judge.

JFS is primarily funded by the federal and state governments. As such, Crawford oversaw a total operating budget of $370 million, which includes the department's food stamp, child care and Medicaid programs. She leaves a staff of more than 300, which consists of the Department of Human Services and the Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Changing role of JFS

She said the public still has a glaring misconception of what JFS does, especially since its role changed when welfare reform laws, known as Ohio Works First, went into effect in 1997.

Among the requirements was that unemployed adults in low-income families get a job within three years to receive welfare benefits.

Program participants can receive cash benefits for up to three years if they meet the obligations. The work requirement also applies to all public assistance programs, including food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children food program.

Therefore, the department's focus now is to provide education and economic opportunities leading toward self-sufficiency, Crawford said.

"Even given the number of individuals that have matriculated through this agency since 1997, I would not describe them as being self-sufficient," Crawford said, mainly because job opportunities are scarce in the Mahoning Valley.

"People came to the end of their 36-month limitation in some instances and we were not fully successful in placing them in employment where they could sustain their families so they would not now be dependent upon child care, transportation and health care," Crawford said.

The public has to know, however, the JFS is another source to find employment, she said.

There also have been rule changes involving the collection of child support, which provides financial and medical benefits. She said for mothers working only part time, health benefits are important.

Under the old welfare system, a mother would simply say she didn't know who the father was and that was a good enough declaration to get benefits.

Now, mothers are required to pursue paternity identification, and if they don't, they face penalties and sanctions, she said.

Minority hiring

Most of the employees in the JFS are women, and several are black and Hispanic, but Crawford says the county needs to do a better job of hiring minorities.

"I wouldn't say it has been exclusionary, but we [minorities] have been overlooked," Crawford said. Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented throughout county government, and there are few or none on the governing boards of agencies, where the real decisions are made.

She said the county commissioners have the authority to appoint people to those boards.

"We need to push with our [political] candidates and others that we would like to be where the decisions are made," Crawford said, who said she has been approached to run for public office.

She does consider herself a role model. She has tried to tell people of color, particularly women, that she "came through the system the hard way and if I can achieve, you can also."

The key to success, however, is having an equal opportunity to obtain that success.

"Level the playing field. Provide others coming after me equal opportunity to a quality education, access to the jobs, and then evaluate us on our performance," Crawford said.

But she cautioned that some minority employees are set up for failure when they are not given the training and resources they need to do their jobs. Welfare reform

Crawford said her most significant accomplishment has been overseeing the change in welfare reform. She said her perspective on what was needed to accomplish that, plus the support she received from the community, was most satisfying.

She was able to build partnerships with other agencies, like Mahoning County Children Services and the Drug and Alcohol board, and businesses to help meet the needs of JFS and the people it serves.

Her other major accomplishment was "just surviving these eight years" as director without too many scars and bruises, she laughed.

After retiring, she plans to fish, her first love, and do some traveling. She also plans to stay in the community, which has provided her a good life personally and professionally.

"I'm a firm believer that you put something back and not just take," Crawford said, adding that she's still growing and learning and trying "to define who Dee Crawford really is."

She said she's a firm believer that her faith will lead and guide her to what she wants to do in the future. "I've never gone anywhere where I felt I didn't belong."

Her advice for her successor?

"Make sure he or she clearly defines the role of JFS director as it relates to the board of commissioners," she said. Sometimes the rules and regulations from the federal and state government can clash with the desires of the commissioners, she added.

Before she became JFS director, Crawford was vice president and director of planning and fund distribution for the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and a coordinator at Youngstown State University's Center for Urban Studies.

Before working at YSU, she served 15 years in the county's Department of Human Services in capacities from caseworker to manager.

A graduate of Youngstown South High School, she has bachelor's degrees in sociology and languages from YSU.

In 2000, she received the Regional Chamber's ATHENA Award, which spotlights women who have made extraordinary contributions to the community.

She has a son, DeWayne Jennings of Reynoldsburg, a stepdaughter, Joan Crawford of Youngstown, and three grandchildren.




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