For DYFS, An Adviser Who Speaks From The Heart

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For DYFS, An Adviser Who Speaks From The Heart
Opinion Section by Lawrence Aaron
The Record (Bergen, NJ) 

WHEN Robert Danzig speaks, state DYFS workers listen. And so does their boss, Human Services Commissioner James Davy.

A former newspaper executive turned motivational speaker, Danzig devotes his time, money, and expertise to help the embattled Division of Youth and Family Services get over the hurdles of reinventing an agency mired in controversy and tragedy.

He took on the task of easing workers over the tremendous hump of negative publicity and is helping rebuild its self-image.

Suggesting ideas from the business world to apply to DYFS’ $500-million- a-year mission is a valuable service. Worker morale is also key because of their contact on the front lines with 74,000 children and families in distress.

“Can you light a candle in the life of that child or in the path of that child?” Danzig asks DYFS workers, describing his approach to motivating them. “I’m a businessman. I ran a big business. The spirit of the place is what makes a business excel.”

Danzig is a good morale booster, an essential tonic for a staff facing monumental pressures to fix a broken system under the nation’s gaze, which has focused on New Jersey over the last 21 tumultuous months.

If ever there was a time to pay attention to staff morale, it’s now, as case workers in the first wave of new hires are getting trained. By this time next year 450 new caseworkers will be on board, with almost twice that number the following year.

“By and large the workers at DYFS do competent work and compassionate work, and that gets pushed to the side when something bad happens,” said Davy. The recently installed commissioner of human services sees Danzig as his secret weapon to bolster worker self-confidence. “The positive will override the negative.”

If you’re looking for positive, Danzig lives it, breathes it, and wrote the book on it. In fact, he has several of them. Start with “Every Child Deserves a Champion.”

In this collection of personal stories, people recall the caring adult who championed their cause and changed their life. One of them is the reflection of a man from a troubled family. His friend’s mother was his champion/advocate, doing homework with him and encouraging him not to drop out of school: he did anyway but she inspired him to go back.

Another is a chapter from a woman, Lyn Price, and her long-lost sister who, after growing up in separate homes, established a summer camp where siblings from different foster homes reunite for one week each summer. Danzig comes by his compassion for caseworkers’ challenges through experience. He was a foster child himself.

His most cherished possession was the tattered bag he used to move his clothes whenever a new family was found for him.

As a frightened and disheartened 12-year-old being placed in his fifth foster home, Danzig’s social worker, Mae Morse, spoke the three words that would guide his life. “You are worthwhile,” she told him. “Never forget – you are worthwhile.”

It’s a simple but important message that got him on course years after alcohol made his mother and father give him up when he was 2.

The professional rescuers responsible for saving kids from their own parents need all the morale reinforcement we can give them.

“I go to these people with gratitude because these people are social workers, and a social worker changed my life,” says Danzig.

When he was in his late teens, he started working his way up from the bottom of the Hearst media empire, rising from office boy to publisher and then on to CEO and vice president for 20 years.

His services to Human Services are gratis, the gift of a man who learned self-confidence from a caring stranger.