In the next few weeks, a Mid-Missouri lawmaker will become the new director of the Missouri Department of Social Services’ Children’s Division.
State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits, said he will bring stability to the position that it hasn’t seen in some time.
The division has had five different directors over the past seven years.
Wood also provides a connection to the Legislature to the role that some of his predecessors didn’t enjoy.
Wood said he made the case to Gov. Mike Parson’s administration that he would do a good job of filling the role.
“I know the Children’s Division inside and out,” he told the News Tribune. “I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on children. A lot of legislation I’ve passed dealt with children.”
Wood graduated from Eldon High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri) and was a teacher in Versailles for more than 25 years.
He served on tourism, appropriations, health and education committees in the Legislature. Over the past four years, he’s served on the House Budget Committee and served as its vice chairman for the past two years.
The Children’s Division needs consistency at the top, he said. Wood has committed to stay at least four years.
If he’s needed beyond that, he’s open to staying longer.
“(The Children’s Division has) had several directors who have come from within the department or within the industry (of child care or child protection) but none from the Legislature,” Wood said. “I bring a certain skill set — knowing how the budget process works and fighting for money.”
Wood’s work in the General Assembly has garnered him recognition from several children-support organizations like Kids Win Missouri, which advocates for policies supporting health, development, education and safety of children; Missouri KidsFirst, which is aimed at ending child abuse; and the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve always defended children’s budget items,” Wood said.
The Children’s Division is responsible for administration of child welfare services, according to its website. It works with families, communities, courts and other government entities to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children.
Wood was most passionate about children’s services as he worked in the Legislature.
“I’ve had a lot of things over eight years that led me to do this,” said Wood, who has two children and five grandchildren. “Mostly, it’s an interest in children and making sure they’re safe.”
The workload won’t be much different than what he’s used to, he said. Even when lawmakers were out of session, he spent four or five days a week at the Capitol working on issues.
A difference will be he can focus on one division.
“I hope I’m going to be able to change the perception of the Children’s Division a little bit,” he continued.
Some people think Children’s Division removes children from their homes. It doesn’t, he said.
“Right now, the perception is we’re there to remove children and punish parents,” Wood said. “I hope to move the perception of Children’s Division to helping parents be better parents.”
As informed as he is, Wood admits he has more to learn about the division as he starts as director. But the goal remains keeping children safe.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a drop in hotline calls because children aren’t in school, where teachers (as mandatory reporters) can pick up on signs of abuse or neglect, Wood said.
Children are home, and parents may be laid off.
“There’s no way to escape and blow off steam,” he said. “We know that makes a situation worse.”
There’s nothing simple about the Children’s Division, he said. He’d like to see more standardized training to assure staff have the tools they need to protect children.