Mayor Nutter yesterday announced that Anne Marie Ambrose, Pennsylvania's child welfare and juvenile justice director, is his choice to lead the embattled city Department of Human Services, filling one of the last major open positions in his administration.
Ambrose, who begins in the job June 23, currently oversees four statewide regional offices that manage licensing and child-abuse investigations for several public and private agencies.
Ambrose worked as the city's deputy DHS commissioner for juvenile justice services from 2001 to 2005. Among other duties in that position, she oversaw the Youth Study Center.
Speaking at a City Hall news conference, Nutter acknowledged that DHS was still struggling to remake itself after the deaths of 25 children over three years in families known to the agency. He said finding someone to take on the top job was one of his most challenging appointments.
Though the agency has made "great strides" implementing the recommendations of a DHS oversight panel, Nutter said, "there is still much work to do."
A nationwide recruitment effort included interviews with candidates from 19 states. This was "the most extensive search we've been engaged in," Nutter said. He said he participated in eight of those interviews.
Nutter praised Ambrose's talent and integrity, and said: "Ultimately, we found our candidate right here in Pennsylvania."
Holding the formal title of director of child welfare and juvenile justice services, Ambrose works for state Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman, whose previous work includes being Philadelphia's managing director, director of social services, and health commissioner.
"It is with great anticipation and excitement that I look forward to continuing the great work of leading this agency and to making it a model for excellence in child welfare," Ambrose said in a statement. As commissioner, she will oversee an agency with a $615 million budget. She will be paid $150,000 a year.
"She hits the ground running," said Rita Urwitz, vice president of AFSCME Local 2186, which represents DHS supervisors. "She has a relationship with the city, the state and the union."
Carol Spigner led the DHS oversight panel and interviewed six of the finalists. "There were good people who came though the process," she said, "but the match here felt the most right." She noted Ambrose's well-articulated understanding of the agency's challenges. "What also struck us was a passion for the work," she said.
Carol E. Tracy, a member of a special city review panel that Mayor John F. Street appointed to evaluate DHS, said Ambrose was "very highly regarded. . . . She has spent much of her time in juvenile justice, but has learned a lot in her time at the state."
Ambrose succeeds Arthur C. Evans Jr., who had served as acting commissioner since late 2006 and, as Nutter noted, led DHS through the chaotic months after Street fired the previous DHS commissioner.
"At a time of stress, and at a time of challenge, Arthur Evans stepped up," Nutter said as Evans received a standing ovation from a crowd of child-service professionals. A majority of City Council was also present, standing by Nutter's side during the announcement.
Evans will maintain his position as director of the city Department of Behavioral Health, the position for which Street hired him.
Until June 23, DHS will be in the hands of James E. Randolph, a deputy commissioner at DHS who was named interim commissioner yesterday.