Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, November 7, 2014

Tuohy makes child welfare services better

John Tuohy John Tuohy

John Tuohy is helping county officials around Wisconsin improve child welfare services.

As director of the Bureau of Regional Operations for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, the 1983 alum monitors programs and provides technical assistance to county, tribal and private agencies that operate programs under contract with DCF. "I and my staff serve as DCF's primary liaisons with the local service provider agencies," Tuohy says.

One way Tuohy is helping counties is to evaluate various approval actions that the state requires child welfare supervisors to make. "I organized a meeting in 2013 with county human services department directors to make recommendations to improve child welfare services," Tuohy says. "Several joint county-state projects came out of that meeting, including the project to evaluate the approval process with the goal of reducing child welfare supervisors' workloads."

Tuohy's public affairs training has been essential during his 30-plus his years of state service. "The analytical skills that I learned have been very helpful over the years to help me advance my career," he says. "Being able to see the big picture and anticipate what is needed next made me valuable to my supervisors and allowed me to advance to the senior management level."

Understanding context and potential outcomes helps him during negotiations. "In my current role, I lead the state/county contract negotiations to come up with contract language that both DCF and county human service departments find acceptable," Tuohy says. "Both sides worry that contract negotiations can get contentious, but the discussions have been positive and respectful of each other."

Over the years, Tuohy has worked on legislation, budget proposals, program implementation and improvement plans with the federal government. "The quantitative skills I learned at La Follette have been very helpful," he says. "My first job with the state was as a research analyst with the Department of Revenue, and I did a lot of projecting tax revenue, such as fiscal estimates for tax legislation. Being able to crunch numbers is a very valuable skill."

Tuohy also has hired La Follette School graduates and encouraged others to hire alumni and give internships to students. "The La Follette School does a great job preparing students to be successful in public administration and related fields," he says. "The program emphasizes practical connections with state and local governments."

When Tuohy came to La Follette, he expected to graduate and go into city management, so he took a few courses in urban planning to complement his public administration studies. He had a paid research assistantship with professor Clara Penniman, researching her administrative history of the City of Madison. "I spent a lot of time looking at old city records in the Madison Clerk's office," he notes.

"I also did three unpaid internships while at La Follette, first with the City of Madison transportation department helping them develop an employee handbook, second with the Dane County administration department doing a study of worker's compensation claims, and third with the then-state Department of Health and Social Services, assisting their policy office to research pending federal legislation and budget actions," Tuohy says. "The DHSS internship was helpful in me getting a job in the DHSS budget office several years later."

When he graduated in 1983, Tuohy encountered a tight job market, so he looked to state government for his first job. "After 31 years and several agencies, I am still with the state," Tuohy says, adding that he has been active in various Madison neighborhood associations, including service as president of the McClellan Park group. "I value being able to see how services make a difference to people, which is why I enjoy my current DCF job."

"I consider it a privilege to help the public get the services they need and for government to be effective in delivering services," says Tuohy, who has two grown children and one grandchild. "I have always taken pride in being a public servant."