As she moved from front-line caseworker to state-level administrator to national policy advisor, Heidi McIntosh ’92 (SFS), ’98 MSW has come to appreciate how complex issues can become at the next level.
“It’s 10 times more complex at the national level,” says McIntosh, senior policy advisor in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Your advocacy skills have to be tempered. There are a million and one issues in America. To keep pushing children’s issues to the top with the economy, war, debt ceiling, it’s one piece of a bigger puzzle.”
Appointed in September 2010 as top assistant to Bryan Samuel, ACYF commissioner, McIntosh is responsible for helping to develop and implement programs to protect children, prevent abuse and neglect, and find permanent placement for children who cannot safely return to their homes. The agency has a budget of $8 billion.
She began her career in social work as a trainee in the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, working cases in the Waterbury area. In 2004, she was named deputy commissioner of DCF before moving to Washington, D.C., and the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.
“There is no typical day here,” McIntosh says. “We’re always getting congressional requests for information, providing technical assistance on a bill they want to either push forward or are developing, or serving on work groups for the White House or other federal agencies.”
She says that with middle-class Americans increasingly touched by the struggling national economy, more children are being affected by the fallout of parental substance abuse and mental health issues. Having such an advocate for children’s issues in the White House as First Lady Michelle Obama, who has supported adoption issues, has provided unexpected assistance in the ongoing quest for funding programs, she adds.
“In these lean economic times, the president has chosen not to take money away, but introduce an additional $250 million of federal child welfare funding to align financial incentives with improved outcomes for children in foster care and those receiving in-home services from the child welfare system to prevent entry or re-entry into foster care,” McIntosh says. “We’re working on improved monitoring systems, working with states to hold them accountable for how kids and families are doing in their system.”