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Joel Levine, LCSW, Executive Director for Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults (HCPS)

Mr. Levine has a long history as a Child Welfare Professional. Mr. Levine is the Executive Director for Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults (HCPS). He has been with HCPS for 22 years. Prior to his current position, Mr. Levine served as Children Services Division Administrator. Previously, he was the Director of Administration and Director of the TRIAD Program for County Juvenile Prevention and Early Intervention Services. Prior to HCPS, Mr. Levine worked for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services where he worked as a Caseworker, Foster Home Development Trainer and Supervisor and Program Director for Family Preservation.

Mr. Levine holds a Master’s Degree in Social Services Administration from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a Sociology Minor from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Mr. Levine is a Senior Fellow in the American Leadership Forum Houston Chapter (Criminal Justice Class IV), Board President for the Texas Network of Youth Services, Member of the Houston Galveston-Area Council Criminal Justice Advisory Council, and on the Advisory Board for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies-Houston Campus. Mr. Levine is an active member of the Rotary Club of Houston for the past 11 years. He currently serves as the Youth in Education Committee Co-chair where he is responsible for standing up a CPS Adoption Fair as his service project. He served on the Board of the Club from 2013-2016. Mr. Levine is married to Julie Tritter Levine and has two sons ages 27 and 23.

Number of years in management: 

Tell us about your path to management: 

I started as a CPS Investigative Caseworker with what is now the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. I became a supervisor of a Family Preservation Unit in 1993 and then Program Director for all regional Family Preservation Units in 1996. Based on my work in the field I developed a strong belief in the need to preserve and strengthen families as opposed to child removal wherever it is in the best interest of the child to do so. I accepted a position with the Harris County Child Welfare Board agency (Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults) in 1998. This decision was based on a new opportunity created by the county to develop juvenile prevention and early intervention resources and changes to the Intensive family preservation model at the state level to a case management and referral program with only monthly visits and larger caseloads. This was due to a shift in federal funding at the time. I moved up in Harris County overtime and was appointed to the position of Executive Director of the Agency by Harris County Commissioner’s Court in July of 2016.

What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals? 

I have read many books and articles on leadership in addition to having attended many trainings and workshops over the years. I believe that it all boils down to passion/commitment and humility. Integrity is a must. A leader must do the right thing no matter how challenging and courageous it may appear. I also believe that community involvement is essential. I have been very active in associations and organizations and the state and local level.

How do you motivate your team members?

I believe it comes from being genuine and authentic with your staff. I see myself as a person of depth. It takes time for staff to see my character and build trust. I have a participative leadership style and keep my management team up to date on our successes and internal and external challenges that need to be addressed. I seek their input with the understanding that I have the final decision. They also see me support them and advocate for the agency with funders, commissioner’s Court, the legislator, etc. I tend to be hands-on and involved though I do not micro-manage.

Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey? 

I have several people who have mentored me along the way. I see my current mentors as a former Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, a retired CEO of a large local non-profit and a management consultant. I believe strongly in the need to reach out to people who have expertise in areas that I need to improve in and listen to their counsel.

How has networking impacted your career? 

I have been very involved in local and state organizations to work alongside other professionals in promoting our work for the children and adults of Harris County and moving the field in a positive direction. I am always looking for ways that we can collaborate and have set up several public/private partnership programs. It is also essential for the community agencies to know what is happening so we do not duplicate our efforts given the limited resources that we have to work with. I am currently the Board President for the Texas Network of Youth Services. I am also involved in the Rotary Club and American Leadership Forum – Houston because it is important to not just network within the social services field but in the broader community with a diversity of people and perspectives. Showing up everywhere and forming relationships is what has led to my career success.

What are you reading and/or following now (books, blogs, social media groups, etc.)?

I listen to The Accidental Creative podcast with Todd Henry.  I have read all of his books. I especially enjoyed Louder than Words and Herding Tigers. Books that I have read in the last year that I would highly recommend are:

I enjoy books, podcasts and blogs from Simon Sinek and Seth Godin as well.

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?

Have a defined set of core values to work from. Always refer back to your values when faced with challenges.

Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?

I have two projects that I am extremely proud of:

  1. In 2017, we opened the first Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC) in Texas. This is a multidisciplinary setting for the prosecution and restoration of elder abuse and exploitation. We have already served over 250 elder victims at the Center.
  2. We have a transition center for youth ages 16-26 who are exiting the state foster care system and former foster youth. We are working with Harris County Commissioner’s Court, Harris County Community Services Department, the Harris County Housing Authority, and a private foundation to develop a complex that will include the Center and 50 apartments for youth aging out of foster care. The youth will be able to move into the apartment when they leave care with case management and wrap-around services. We have identified the land to build on and are in the process of applying for federal HUD Disaster Recovery Funds through the County and City.

What do you wish you had known before you started your career?

I wish I would have learned to address my anxiety issues sooner. I tended to be reactive in wanting to address issues immediately. I have learned that it is better to take a deep breath and seek to understand the issue first.

Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.

I have learned that if a staff person does not work out it is better to part ways with them sooner rather than later. I have also learned that it is better to have a vacancy than to have the wrong person in a position.

Where can people reach you for questions (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail address)?

The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.

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