Strengthening the child welfare workforce is one of Tim Decker's toughest challenges and top priorities.
As director of the Missouri Children's Division within the Department of Social Services, Decker has nearly three decades of experience serving in leadership capacities within state government.
In a field where turnover rates can be high, Decker said his division is working hard to provide the kinds of training and support workers need to succeed in their jobs.
"Training and support is an important focus for us, because we want high-quality children's service workers in the field," Decker said.
Decker assumed leadership of the Children's Division in late November. Prior to that move, he served as director of the Division of Youth Services since 2007. He has served the state of Missouri since 1984.
The Children's Division oversees the state's foster care and adoption programs, operates the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, licenses private children's residential care and child-placing agencies, and performs many other duties related to children's welfare.
He noted the numbers of children in the state's care and custody is increasing, and meeting those children's needs requires building relationships across the state. He said it takes people working together in all three branches of government to help children.
"We're very much involved in establishing collaborative relationships around the state," he said.
In 2012, Decker worked with leaders across various state departments and the court system to establish Missouri's Crossover Youth Initiative. The program focuses on preventing youths with traumatic histories of abuse and neglect from becoming involved in juvenile delinquency, as well as improving the outcomes for young people who become involved in the justice system.
"We want them on a successful trajectory in their lives," he said.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Decker earned a degree in social work and psychology from Park University in Parkville.
Decker has previous experience working with Greater Kansas City's Local Investment Commission (LINC). Created in 1992 and driven by residents, LINC is primarily a state-funded collaboration involving the efforts of Missouri state government - working with neighborhood leaders, residents, business people, civic and labor leaders - to improve the lives of families in the Kansas City area.
He is married to Laurie Decker, a former special-education teacher who today is a youth minister and Court-Appointed Special Advocate. The CASA program helps provide judges the information they need to ensure every child's rights and needs are being attended to while they are in foster care.
The couple has two grown children.
In their spare time, the couple enjoys seeing the world.
"We have the travel bug," Decker acknowledged. "We're also really involved in our church, and we enjoy spending time with the people we know there."