Longtime social worker Howard Himes has been named director of Fresno County’s Department of Social Services.
The 24-year county veteran will take over an agency that oversees the welfare of vulnerable adults and children and administers a wide range of public assistance programs, from food stamps to CalWorks. His new job starts Oct. 31.
Himes, now a deputy director in the department, acknowledged he has a lot of work to do.
‘The major challenge, as you read in the paper, is the economy,” he said.
Budget cuts have hit the agency hard and forced reductions to virtually all programs, which Himes said this week he plans to counter by pursuing more funding opportunities and by reorganizing parts of the department.
The department also has faced criticism for coming up short in its charge of protecting children. The high-profile death of 10-year-old Seth Ireland, who was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend despite reports to the county about abuse, triggered a state audit.
County Supervisor Susan Anderson, a strong advocate for children, said Himes’ background in child protective services makes him a good fit for the job.
“To have experience on that end is very important,” she said. “He really cares what happens to kids and their families.”
Himes, who lives in Clovis and is married with three children, replaces Cathi Huerta, who stepped down earlier this year.
Huerta ended a 37-year career with the county to consider a run for the Board of Supervisors, but after retiring decided to steer clear of politics.