Martha Stacker Heads DCDHS’s Division of
Children, Youth & Families
Both Sides Now
|Martha Stacker has seen the human services field from
just about every side, from welfare client to
program manager and everything in between.
need them right now to help you get through. Joining Forces for Families helps people not get evicted, pays the first and last month’s rent. It helps
them keep their lights on. Sometimes we’ll never help that family again. We’ll never see them again. And then there are some whose lights are
constantly off or they are facing eviction again. They are repeat people who are bordering being homeless and we’re trying to make sure that family
doesn’t end up going on the streets. So when does assisting to empowering come in, that you show the family and help them? This is how you save
money so that you pay your rent. What are the missing factors that the family needs? Does someone in the household need a more sustainable job? Is
there someone who isn’t employed in the home? Are they just not generating enough money in the home? Is there child care missing in the home?
What are the underlying factors in the home that are causing the eviction? That’s what needs to be addressed, the underlying factors. That’s what is
important to the division.”
The same holds true for Child Protective Services.
“We don’t want to remove kids from homes,” Stacker said. “We want to keep them in the home. And sometimes that is a myth and a misconception
about Child Protective Services. ‘They put kids in foster care.’ We don’t want to put kids in foster care. That’s an absolute last resort. That’s all I’ve heard
since I came here. That’s the last thing that we want to do. And I’ve seen in practice that it is the last thing that is done. But the reality of it is how you
make a person sustainable by giving them the viable resources to make sure that family is functional on their own. We want to empower and not
Stacker is very proud of the work that the division is doing to make conditions better for all people in Dane County, especially its work to reduce racial
disparities in the juvenile justice system.
“Some of the things like the CRC Program are working really well with kids in making sure that young adults are ensuring that if they complete the
program successfully, they don’t have a criminal record,” Stacker said. “That is significant. They don’t have a CCAP hit. They don’t have a criminal
record. The program is having a high success rate. For the first time ever in Dane County, the court diversion program is showing a 20 percent drop in
African American males having a criminal record ever in Dane County. Those are significant things that the public may not be seeing, so I am glad I
am having the opportunity to say it. And I’ve talked with the division about we need to get this information out more and people need to see and hear
it. Those are things that make a significant difference in success. I’m not going to sit here by any way, means or fashion and negate the fact that there
are racial disparities. They exist. We know that. I’m the first person of color at the table in this capacity.”
Human service programs usually have a strict standards of eligibility even though living conditions on both sides of the line may not be all that much
different. Dane County Human Services is trying to ensure that there isn’t a big drop-off in support that inadvertently encourages — or guarantees —
long-term dependence on assistance. Take foster care children, who suddenly become self-supporting adults — that is what the guidelines say —
when they turn 18-years-old, as an example.
“We have an independent living program for kids who are aging out of the system,” Stacker said. “We just doubled low-income vouchers for kids. That’s
one of the first things that I did so that when kids age out, they can get vouchers for living in subsidized housing for three years. It’s important for kids
who age out that they have sustainable housing so they can get an associate’s degree and have a sustainable income. That’s one thing that they say
they need. What happens when they become 18-years-old? They do argue that they feel they are left out. What happens after they age out?”
Stacker’s position as head of the Division of Children, Youth and Families is almost the culmination of the personal and professional experiences that
Stacker has had over the years as if she had been in training for this moment.
“Looking at the full dynamics of what we do comprehensively, I never have a dull moment,” Stacker said. “Every day is a different day.
Comprehensively, I’m doing everything that I love to do. I’ve always felt like criminal justice and social services go hand-in-hand. We consult a lot with
court counsel in regards to some legal matters that we want to ensure that we are following the appropriate processes when it comes to children and
families. That’s a key thing actually. We work with the juvenile justice judges. I think we’re doing really well in working with them collaboratively. We’re
going to start meeting with them individually soon. That is something that I requested and the judges embraced it. I brought it to our management
team and they came on board. We think that is going to be very, very productive to move forward and have a more individualized meetings to fine-
tune some processes and expectations that happen in the courtroom. We have some good things in the works.”
In order for the division’s programs to work, there has to be a certain level of buy-in from the people they serve and the people who provide the
services. And so, part of Stacker’s job is to listen on the grassroots level to what the community needs.
“There is so much behind-the-scenes work and a lot of times, people can give you an awful lot of information,” Stacker said. “And it’s what you do with
it that counts. Sometimes the needs are so great. I wish we had more money sometimes, but I have to work with what I have. I’ll go to a meeting and I
will hear of 10 other things that we hadn’t even thought of. I’ve walked away from some community meetings and gone, ‘Wow, that was a great idea.
Boy did they give me an earful. Wow, did they tell me the truth.’ The people in the community will tell you the truth. And if you don’t implement
something that they told you, you have failed them.”
Failure is not something that Stacker has given into during her life. She’s not about to start failing now
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Dr. Martha Stacker, the first African American to head Dane County Human Services
Division of Children, Youth & Families, is a very sharp and friendly person who is well
aware of things around her. While she has had a lot of help along the way, Stacker is a
self-made woman who has gone from the client list to the director’s list of human service
The Division of Children, Youth and Families impacts tens of thousands of Dane County
residents each year through its AODA, Joining Forces for Families, Neighborhood
Intervention Program, Child Protective Services, restorative courts, PASS-AmeriCorps
placements and purchase of services that empower dozens of area non-profits to work with
children and families in need. The division employs 220 staff and manages $18 million
in purchase of service contracts.
And they serve all levels of need, from those who briefly need their services to those who
need long-term care and treatment.
“The families and children who are ‘one-and-done’ in terms of using human services are
the best case scenarios,” Stacker said. “Quite honestly, we’ll give you resources when you