TITLE: Vice President, Chief Program Officer
FUNDING AREAS: Early childhood development, education and welfare
CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)
IP TAKE: Cohen's career primarily involves administration and planning, but it's most important to take a look at his regional focuses: New York, Baltimore, and New Jersey. These are three of the most notoriously hard-up urban centers on the east coast in terms of child welfare, the area in which he works.
PROFILE: Steve Cohen serves as vice president, chief program officer, and serves on the Annie E. Casey Board of Trustees as well. He advises the foundation's president and oversees all of their individual initiatives. Foundation Watch points out that the foundation's roster, both staff and board members, is peppered quite generously with the acronyms of academic credentials. With a bachelor's degree in history and economics from Cornell University and a master's in public administration from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, Cohen is no exception.
In 2003 and 2004, the state of New Jersey was doubled over on itself, engrossed in the seriously painful self-surgery of overhauling their Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The agency, "widely viewed as a dismal failure" according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, fell into disfavor with the now ex-Governor Jim McGreevy. DYFS wound up with some rank egg on its face in January of 2003, when the body of Faheem Williams, a 7 year-old, showed up in a Newark basement along with his two brothers, almost dead from starvation, after the department had closed a case on them. The otherwise publicity-shy department started out calling out to NJ press; it wasn't long before McGreevy started calling for DYFS scalps.
Cohen was charged with the task of collecting those scalps. The McGreevy administration "agreed to be supervised by a panel of child welfare experts who would work with human services officials to hammer out a reform plan," according to Bergen County's Record, and Cohen led the panel responsible for putting it together.
Although it sounds contradictory at first, the new plan as it evolved under Cohen aimed to “keep a child with birthparents, and (a plan) that results in moving the child into foster care and a permanent adoptive home.” Point being: Do what's best and most consistent for the child in his or her direction situation. The other aspect of Cohen's the plan involved ensuring that a single caseworker stays with a child for as long as possible, instead of jostling cases between several different social services workers who must learn the case history from scratch each time.
Cohen also understands the value of hard data. He contributed to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2010 Kids Count Data Book, a state-by-state analysis of child welfare. The report contains data on teen pregnancies, parent employment per-household, infant mortality rates, birth weights, and other benchmarks organized according to major ethnic groups.
In 2011, he moderated a discussion in New York called The Long Road/ One Year Home Symposium. The conference discussed observations on the "case records of 153 children out of more than 4,000 who have remained in foster care for two years or more despite being slated for reunification with their parents or adoption" in NYC's foster-care system.
Cohen approaches his work from a place of compassion. In a Time article entitled "We Need to Rethink 'Bad' Parents," Cohen stated, "[M]ost of the families involved with the child-welfare system are committed to their kids and are torn up by not being able to raise their kids safely.”