NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
David A. Berns (1946 - )
Pioneering Contributions: David A. Berns has been involved with child welfare, family support, and public human service agencies as a social worker for nearly forty years. In El Paso County, Colorado his innovations and advocacy led to great strides forward for those in the child welfare system and receiving Temporary Aid to Needy Families. As director of human services in the Colorado Springs Community, Berns and fellow workers promoted a family support and prevention model, which created programs to strengthen kinship care, decrease domestic violence, and increase employment services. Some of the more significant outcomes included a 30% decrease in foster care and residential care placements, an increase in special needs adoptions by 400%, and a sustainment of child safety indicators in all programs. One of the administrative innovations was the creation of a Linkages Committee that brought supervisors, managers, and administrators from health and human service agencies together each month. Berns was a key figure in reframing the fiscal goal of reducing costs with the county commissioner, suggesting that it was a socially desirable and practical goal to provide permanency and better outcomes for children. For the majority of his career, he was known regionally for his child and family work, although Berns’ enthusiasm and passion for the work would lead him to join efforts throughout the country. In 2011, David Berns was requested by Mayor Vincent Gray to join the Department of Human Services in the District of Columbia as the Director, which he accepted. Using the empowerment approach that has been present throughout his career, Berns aims to strengthen families by promoting self-sufficiency while encouraging and supporting public agency staff members. He also oversees homelessness and housing services, disaster preparedness, and a number of other programs. As in El Paso County, one of Berns' main areas for reform is in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and he has made significant efforts to reach out to residents and community leaders.
Career Highlights: Mr. Berns began his career in his home state of Michigan, and he has mostly worked at the county or state level. Berns was a county agency director for 11 years then later directed the Office of Children’s Services in the Family Independence Agency, which serves all of Michigan. Colleagues noted his willingness to represent social work proudly while also respecting and coordinating with other child welfare professionals. Berns often emphasized the link between poverty and those involved in the child welfare system. David A. Berns moved on to El Paso County in Colorado and from there, in 1997, to a statewide position in the Arizona Department of Economic Security as a supervisor of 10,000 employees overseeing a budget of $2.7 billion. Berns directed welfare and child welfare services, development disabilities, employment services, child support, and aging and community service departments.
In 2006, Mr. Berns become the executive vice president at Casey Family Programs, a reform-minded agency that aims to reduce the number of foster care placements. This was Berns’ sole position at a national-level agency, and he brought the energy, excitement, and knowledge to this role that has been noted throughout his career. David A. Berns has also taken committee, board, or affiliate roles with the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators, the American Public Human Services Association, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. He has been a speaker at numerous forums and national conferences and an active member of NASW. In 2011, Berns also shared his approach to administrating as part of an article in the Journal of Family Strengths.
Background: In 1946, David A. Berns was born and baptized a Lutheran in Flint, Michigan, raised in a working class community by a mother and father. He considers one of his three sisters a mentor. Berns, uncharacteristic for his community, decided to pursue college. Working his way through school as a welder, David Berns earned a BA in Psychology in 1969. When a local strike occurred, he was recruited to process applications for a family aid program, which got him involved in the social services. He earned an MSW in 1978 from Michigan State University, where he met his wife Colleen. They have been married for 45 years and have two adult children, who both live in Michigan and have two children of their own. David Berns earned a MPA from Northern Michigan University in 1985.
Awards and Recognition: Mr. Berns received the social worker of the year award from the Colorado Chapter of NASW in 1999 and the Award for Excellence in Public Child Welfare Administrators. The Center for Law and Social Policy highlighted his work in 2003, and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has also acknowledged him for his innovative ideas and strong outcomes as an administrator.
Destiny ~ Pride, Inc. (2012). “February 2012: Mr. David A. Berns.” Destiny ~ Pride, Inc Website: http://destinypride.org/spotlight/february-2012
Social Work Pioneer® 2012