On December 18, 2020 the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS) signed the Utah Compact for Racial Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion. DHS joined Governor Gary R. Herbert and hundreds of other signatories committed to addressing systemic racism.
“We have a daunting opportunity within state government to positively influence change because we know our services often disproportionately affect people of color,” said Ann Silverberg Williamson, DHS executive director advancing action towards racial justice improvements at Utah’s largest state agency. “Our commitment to reverse this trend has been catalyzed by the national conversation and Governor’s call for purposeful, meaningful action to critique our processes and create lasting change.”
DHS’ support for the Compact particularly reflects its fifth principle, “Movement, not a moment,” which states, “Utahns unite behind a common goal to create equal opportunity. We affirm our commitment will not just be a passing moment, but a legacy movement of social, racial and economic justice.”
DHS launched a racial equity initiative in May to advance racial equity in Utah’s public and private human services programs, which includes commitments to:
- evaluate and remediate disproportionality in experience and outcomes for Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) receiving services;
- address bias in research methods;
- develop strategies for recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce reflective of populations served;
- elevate BIPOC into leadership positions within the agency; and
- educate staff systemic racism and racial injustice, including developing a language guide for bias-free communication.
One area of DHS particularly ripe for improvement are data trends in Juvenile Justice. Positive outcomes in juvenile justice reform, which have primarily focused on providing early interventions to help keep kids in their homes and communities and out of the carceral system, are showing significant positive outcomes, including a 46% reduction in locked detention and a 26% reduction in risk to reoffend in the past three years; however, as a July report from Voices for Utah Children showed, BIPOC youth are overrepresented in the system working to influence positive change. Last week, the Division of Juvenile Justice named a Director of Diversity and Inclusion who will work to address racial inequalities with partners in the juvenile system, as well as increasing BIPOC representation among staff.
“We work within a system with known disparities, and we are accountable to do better,” said Williamson.
“As public servants, we are committed to the call of compassion and care for humanity. We are living and loving through action for the greater good. And still, our work reveals how pain abounds, unjustly more in communities of color. Our commitment to combat this multigenerational trauma persists.”