Politics & Government

New leader picked for Kentucky agency overseeing child and adult protection

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has named a new head of the agency that oversees child and adult protection, food stamps and other benefits programs.

Teresa James, who has been acting commissioner since December, will oversee the Department for Community Based Services on a permanent basis, cabinet secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes announced Thursday.

"Families, their children and vulnerable adults across this state each day depend on the staff of DCBS to provide support and protection," James said in a statement. "I am committed to working collaboratively with our community partners to promote safety, stability and well-being for each and every citizen of this commonwealth."

James takes the helm of a department that has been under intense scrutiny from the media and legislature over its handling of child-abuse cases. the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville successfully sued the cabinet last year for access to state files on children who died from abuse and neglect.

The legislature has held public meetings about its frustration with the department over its handling of some child-abuse cases, including the case of Amy Dye, a 9-year-old Todd County girl who was beaten to death by her adopted brother in February 2011. Amy's file showed the cabinet had been contacted several times by Todd County school officials in the years before Amy's death about suspicious injuries to Amy.

James was named interim commissioner in December after commissioner Pat Wilson resigned.

Since James has been interim commissioner, relations between the legislature and the department have started to improve. The department turned in its annual report on child-abuse deaths and near-deaths to the legislature on time this year. In 2010 and 2011, the annual report was given to the legislature several months after its Sept. 1 due date.

A Midway native, James was first appointed deputy commissioner in 2008. She has more than 25 years' experience working with abused and neglected children and vulnerable adults. James started her career with the cabinet in 1986 as a front-line child protection worker in Danville.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader