Jennie Feria began her child welfare career in October 1996 as a Children’s Social Worker Trainee at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services Child Protection Hotline with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UCLA. In 2002, Ms. Feria earned a Master of Social Welfare (MSW) degree, also from UCLA.
Ms. Feria continued her commitment to the children and families of L.A. County in November 2009 through her service as an Assistant Regional Administrator in the South County regional with a focus on Emergency Response investigations. Ms. Feria managed sixty staff in the highest volume office in the county with investigations averaging 1,000 children per month. In March 2010, Ms. Feria obtained her license as a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.
In 2015, Ms. Feria accepted a position as the Interim Executive Assistant to Director, Philip Browning. In this capacity, Ms. Feria provided consultation in the development of new plans, systems and policies; analyzed correspondence and made recommendations for the dispositions; and represented the Department and Director at meetings with outside stakeholders.
Currently Ms. Feria serves as the Division Chief at the Child Protection Hotline Division which includes Out of County Services, Special Immigrant Status Unit and Hague Convention Unit managing 240 staff and where over 223,000 calls of child abuse and neglect are received each year. She is a graduate of the Leaders in Action Executive Development Program through the Academies for Professional Excellence as well as the County of Los Angeles Executive Leadership Development Program through USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Number of years in management: 9 years
Q 1.) Tell us about your path to management.
My path to management began in 2009 after 7 years in the field as a social worker and 5 years supervising social workers. My first management assignment was as an Assistant Regional Administrator in investigations during an extremely challenging time for child welfare in Los Angeles County. Senate Bill 39 had just passed allowing for the media to access child fatality records and a pattern of negative media attention created fear amongst social workers. I walked into a backlog of investigations and social workers paralyzed from the harsh criticism. Although challenging, I learned a lot during that time not just about the job but also on how to help staff overcome their fears and to work through the significant workload that resulted. Through the 5 years I was in investigations, I advocated for changes to reduce unnecessary workload that was created in response to the fear. In 2014, I managed investigations in two regional offices as the Acting Regional Administrator. This allowed me to build strong relationships with the community to develop strategies to better serve families. In 2015, I was given the opportunity to serve as the Interim Executive Assistant to the Director. In this role, my child welfare perspective significantly broadened through the exposure to a large spectrum of matters at the Director’s office including Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC), predictive analytics, litigation, Katie A. settlement, etc. This provided an excellent foundation for my transition to Division Chief of the Child Protection Hotline where over 223,000 child abuse calls are received each year.
Q 2.) What leadership qualities do you find to be the most effective in reaching your organizational or career goals?
The most effective leadership qualities in reaching my goals have been to model what I preach. I have high expectations however those same standards apply to myself. I can’t say one thing and do another. I also find it effective to be fair, consistent and transparent. My staff and I may not always agree however they respect my decision knowing that I’m fair and consistent. I also treat everyone with respect regardless of their title, which goes a long way and lets them know they matter.
Q 3.) How do you motivate your team members?
Almost all social workers want to do a good job and help families. I see how hard they work despite the stress and workload. They are willing to invest even more if they feel supported by their supervisor and manager. My primary role as a manager is to support them in this difficult work, guide them when they are off course and advocate on their behalf so they can better serve families. I support them by making an effort to understand what their job entails (i.e., going in the field or answering child abuse calls from time to time) and considering their feedback when decisions are made.
Q 4.) Is there a leader or mentor who has inspired or assisted you along your professional journey?
One of my managers inspired me with her approach. She would always speak with social workers to get their feedback on what was working and not working. More importantly, she would follow up on the issues raised so staff felt they were heard.
Q 5.) How has networking impacted your career?
Networking but more specifically building relationships in an organic way has helped my career tremendously. I believe everyone has something to contribute and establishing relationships whether or not that person has something to offer you at that moment can really be beneficial. You never know when you’ll need something and will need to reach out to an existing relationship for help. It’s really important to reciprocate, as this will strengthen the relationship. Success is easier achieved in teams rather than by individuals.
Q 6.) What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
I regularly follow The Chronicles of Social Change as I find them to be fair and impartial in their reporting. They capture the most pertinent topics in child welfare on a national level.
Q 7.) What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
Never stop learning regardless of how long you’ve been in a position. If you’re always in a position of learning and open to new perspectives, you will continually grow and evolve as a leader.
Q 8.) Do you have an initiative or project you would like to tell our readers about?
I’m excited to share that Los Angeles County is currently piloting the only online child abuse reporting system in California called the Child Abuse Reporting Electronic System (CARES). We’re testing the concept with mandated reporters such as law enforcement, school personnel and DCFS social workers. With an annual volume of over 223,000 calls, the goal is to divert non-emergent reports to this online system allowing emergent reports to be handled more quickly on the 800 Hotline number. When peak call volume decreases (during evening hours), the non-emergent reports are assessed and processed. Since implementation in November 2017, there have been over 500 child abuse reports submitted electronically. The pilot is expected to last two years and UCLA will complete the evaluation.
Q 9.) What do you wish you had known before you started your career?
I wish I had known how difficult being a social worker can be. However, I’m not sure it would have deterred me from this career path. It’s the passion to help those in need that drives me, despite all the stress that comes with it.
Q 10.) Share a mistake or failure that provided the most growth in your career.
When I was a field social worker, I would chase parents down and try to get them to reunify with their children. I learned over time that as much as I wanted them to be successful, it wasn’t about me or a reflection of whether I was a good or bad social worker. It was about their readiness and what they wanted for themselves. I learned this is the same for staff. I may want them to promote and experience things I find helpful however in the end everyone has their own individual paths. Some are natural leaders and others find happiness working directly with families. When I was a supervisor, I had several social workers leave the Department around the same time. I couldn’t help but feel like I failed them. What I came to realize was that child welfare may not have been for them. I appreciated that they were a part of the Department and took that experience with them to inform their new roles as social workers in the school, at a foster family agency and at a domestic violence shelter. Again, I learned it wasn’t about me or a reflection of my ability to supervise, but it was more about supporting my staff with whatever success means to them.
Q 11.) Where can people reach you for questions? (social media profiles such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, email or phone)?
I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
*The views expressed herein are those solely of the author and not necessarily endorsed by the Network for Social Work Management.