JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s new director of social services says improving child safety is his top priority.
Gary Sherman, who was named to head the Department of Social Services by Gov. Matt Blunt on Monday, has experience working in Missouri government stretching back to 1974, including two stints as a division director in the 1980s.
“In our state, 52 kids a year die from child abuse and neglect,” Sherman said.
Foster care cannot be avoided in some cases, Sherman said, but the department must always strive to find stable homes for children. He also said appreciation of state employees who protect the interests of children is vital.
“They see things that you and I would have trouble believing,” Sherman said. “They see horrendous abuses to children. What we want to do is make sure that they are trained, that they are supported and that we let them know that we affirm the work they are doing.”
Sherman said he wanted to continue to assess the department, but that critical choices will need to be made. Missouri cannot afford to waste dollars in tough times, he said.
“It’s going to be difficult, and as with the governor’s budget, these are difficult choices,” Sherman said, “personally difficult, painful, hard decisions.”
Sherman, a Rolla native, served as the director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services. He is leaving a job as chairman for the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Wyoming to accept Blunt’s appointment.
“The department of social services is perhaps the most critical in state government,” Blunt said. “It impacts lots of Missourians.”