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Gov. Holden's new appointee to Social Services wants to shake up the department.

April 16, 2001
By: Maggie Rotermund
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Bob Holden's new director of Social Services says she plans to change the state's welfare department from the inside out.

"I want to make changes in the infrastructure, to build a foundation with communities and businesses and to ensure best practices throughout the department," said Kathy Martin, a former department employee named by the governor to head Social Services.

After working within the department for eight years, Martin took time off to stay at home. She wanted time with her youngest child, now in kindergarten, and time away from the daily grind.

"I felt it was important to be with my daughter during those important formative years before she headed off to kindergarten," said Martin.

While at home, Martin worked with the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a think tank based in Washington D.C. The Center, funded by many private groups including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looks at national best practice standards.

During her years with Social Services, Martin was the director of the Budget and Finance Division from 1991-1994. She was also the chief operating officer/community finance officer for Caring Communities from 1995-1997.

From January to April of 1999, Martin was the interim executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Missouri. The group focused on promoting all of the repercussions of child abuse, including the emotional and physical effects.

"I want to improve child welfare and the homes in our community," said Martin.

Her plans include updating the Division of Family Services, which covers the state's child welfare system and enforcement of child support laws.

"The current structure of DFS was established 25 years ago and there have been many technological and philosophical changes in that time," Martin said. "We need to alleviate the heavy workload and high turnover rate among the state's social workers."

Rep. Joan Barry, D-St. Louis, Chair of the House Children, Families and Health Committee says that pay increases would help keep social workers and eliminate some of the turnover.

"With the many demands made on them, a social worker's job is akin to God's," said Martin. "These people come to the job with training and a high level of education. They are good hearted people who want to respond to the needs of others."

Martin describes herself as a promoter of the department. Rep. Roy Holand, R-Springfield, of the House committee on Social Services, Medicaid and the Elderly, says Martin has a difficult challenge ahead of her.

"I think that she will need to be energetic, but I expect nothing but quality from her," said Holand.

Martin is proud of the youth program, which has received national acclaim, but she also has plans for improvements.

"I want to change the image of the department in the eyes of the community. I want people to realize that Social Services does not work on an economic standpoint," said Martin. "We don't just work for lower income families, but for all families in Missouri."

"Social Services should be a support system that crosses gender, ethnic and economic lines."

Barry said she was impressed with what she has seen of Martin.

"I think she has a good background in Social Services," Barry said. "The governor's office seems to have a lot of confidence in her."

So far, at least, Martin is enjoying bi-partisan support, including from the legislature's top Republican.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, agreed. "I oversaw her confirmation and we have worked together nicely so far. I hope she does as well as her promise indicates."