Health and Family Services Cabinet
Social Services Leader Honored

Press Release Date:  Wednesday, May 14, 2014  
Contact Information:  Anya Armes Weber, (502) 564-6786, ext. 3104; or Jill Midkiff, (502) 564-7042, ext. 3465  


FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 14, 2014) – Kentucky Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) Commissioner Teresa James was nominated and recently selected for induction into the University of Kentucky College of Social Work’s Hall of Fame Award by her peers.

The award is presented annually to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the field of social work. James was recognized and inducted into the Hall of Fame on May 7.

DCBS is the state’s primary social services agency and part of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“This is a much-deserved honor for Teresa from UK’s College of Social Work,” Governor Steve Beshear said. “Her compassion has been most evident in her advocacy on behalf of children within Kentucky's foster care system. She has cultivated a community approach to building a stronger and more compassionate foster care program while shining a spotlight on the need for permanency.”

Gov. Beshear appointed James DCBS commissioner in September 2012. She previously served as acting commissioner and deputy commissioner.

CHFS Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes praised James’ efforts in family preservation.

“Especially given the budget climate, Teresa has been a tremendously effective leader,” Secretary Haynes said. “She is adept at both helping families stay together and at reaching out to partner agencies like the Department of Education and the Kentucky School Boards Association to ensure wider organizational changes are implemented, and that everyone understands each other. Teresa will always listen, to reach a better understanding of a problem. She has the true heart of a social worker.”

A native of Midway, James received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Kentucky University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Kentucky. She has been a licensed clinical social worker since.

James has 25 years of clinical social work experience, including more than 17 years working with severely abused and neglected children and their families and four years working with vulnerable adults. She began her career in 1986 as a front-line child protective services worker with the former Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources office in Danville.

James said her front-line experience informs all the decisions she makes as commissioner.

“I have seen close up how so many families struggle,” she said. “They are dealing with substance abuse, mental health issues and job loss. My goal is to ensure that more children have safe and secure, permanent homes.  I am proud to collaborate every day with a wonderful group of individuals who are also working toward this end.”

In the late 1980s, James was a part of a group in Florida that began to address the issues of medically complex children in the foster care system. From that group came the development of a Medical Foster Parenting Program in Florida, which became the model for many states around the country.

James has worked in pediatric medical settings with the issues of abuse and neglect and has dealt with issues surrounding children with chronic illness and severe health needs. She has also performed trauma and crisis intervention work and was a domestic violence trainer, educating more than 4,000 medical professionals a year on the issues surrounding violence in families.

James was also recently awarded the Dean’s Award from Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Safety and Justice at the school’s “Night of Distinguished Professionals.” The evening was dedicated to recognizing alumni and other individuals who have made significant contributions in the areas of justice and safety at the local, state, regional, national or international level.

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The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is home to most of the state’s human services and health care programs, including Medicaid, the Department for Community Based Services and the Department for Public Health. CHFS is one of the largest agencies in state government, with nearly 8,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Commonwealth focused on improving the lives and health of Kentuckians.