John Elliott – Alumni in the Spotlight

Portrait of John ElliotAfter spending 13 years as Deputy Administrator of the Division of Safety and Permanence for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), John Elliott (MPA ‘89) was appointed Administrator of the division in December. Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Elliott fell in love with Madison while studying at the La Follette School and decided to work for the State of Wisconsin because of the ability to have an immediate impact.

Elliott and his team focus on supporting Wisconsin families, particularly those in the child welfare and youth justice systems, so that all Wisconsin children are safe and loved members of thriving families and communities. Their work on a five-year initiative called “Putting Families First” will bring major changes to the child welfare system in Wisconsin. The initiative aims to keep children in family settings whenever possible and to strengthen local communities and support services for families. “My staff are some of the most dedicated, passionate, and creative staff I have had the pleasure to work with throughout my career,” says Elliott. He joined DCF after working at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, UW–Madison, and in the private sector because of the mission and vision of the department and his lived experience as an adoptee. He has stayed there because of the collaborative spirit of the organization and the creativity and passion of the staff and leadership.

Building strong relationships and partnerships has been key to Elliott’s work to improve programs that support families in Wisconsin. In 2019, Elliott won a School of Social Work Achievement Award for helping to bring the Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development System to the school and for his contributions to developing their part-time programs. The School of Social Work partners with DCF in providing training and professional development for child welfare and youth justice professionals, and the award reflects the collaborative work DCF does with the counties and tribes and the Universities of Wisconsin.

Elliott learned early in his leadership journey that government can only be effective when people work together to change and improve policies and programs. “I am very proud of the work we have done at DCF in working with the 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin to support, learn, and improve services to tribal children and families and address the issues of disproportionality and disparities of Indian children in our child welfare system,” he says.

This spring, a team of graduate students from the La Follette School will partner with DCF and the Department of Health Services (DHS) on a capstone project to analyze how other states are using Medicaid to support families and what barriers exist in Wisconsin. “We are hopeful that the work done by the students will help us and DHS target certain areas where Wisconsin can expand Medicaid to support families,” Elliott says.

Elliott’s advice for La Follette students is to take advantage of being in Madison and make connections with state, county, nonprofit, and city government opportunities through internships and project work. In his time at La Follette, Elliott had the opportunity to work as a part-time policy analyst at the City of Madison, where he was able to incorporate several class projects into his work and connect his academic coursework to the “real world”—skills he uses to this day.

Alumni in the Spotlight

To celebrate La Follette’s 40th anniversary, each month in 2024 we are highlighting alumni who influence policymaking at the highest levels in government, nonprofit, and private-sector organizations across the country and abroad.


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