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Keeping Kids Safe Becomes Personal - Keith MetzDate: 04/20/2017
By Kev Moyè
The Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services presented a National Adoption Month Celebration on the steps of the State Capitol in early November 2016.
That particular day the sun was bright, temperature ideal, but the wind gusts were brisk.
The winds presented a problem as the 500 t-shirts situated across the steps – which symbolized the number of youth in the state’s foster care system who were awaiting adoption – were being tossed around.
Someone had to come up with an immediate solution to save a poignant visual.
To the rescue was Keith Metz.
A DCFS Public Information Specialist, Metz led a crusade to place deer corn inside small plastic bags. The bags were then strategically placed on the shirts, as a means to keep them weighed down.
“I love that he was willing to think outside the box, placing the t-shirts on the capitol steps,” said Christie Erwin, executive director of Project Zero.
Metz’s invaluable contributions are nothing new. He’s become known for being a selfless “Jack of All Trades,” especially when working on behalf of a person in need. He coordinates multiple fundraisers throughout the year – selling everything from popcorn and candy to snow cones and sandwiches – which culminate in the Holiday Bazaar, an all-day sale and auction that raises hundreds of dollars. All proceeds go to buy gift cards for teens in foster care.
“Keith is an advocate – both for families and for caseworkers – and his passion for protecting and uplifting the vulnerable is ever present in his daily work,” said Greg Moore, formerly of the DCFS Service Quality and Practice Improvement Unit. “Many people within the agency know Keith from his work with DCFS fundraisers and the Holiday Bazaar, but folks may not realize that all of those things are ‘extras’ and go well beyond his regular job duties.”
BEING A VOICE
Metz began working with DHS as a contractor in 1997 and became an official DHS employee in 2008. Over the years, one thing he has enjoyed immensely is building ties with a wide variety of people.
“I’ve always liked travelling to the county offices to do case reviews, deliver gifts and other things. I enjoy getting to know the staff across the state and the people they serve in their communities,” he said. “You don’t know what the frontline folks deal with until you spend some time in their shoes. I always loved soaking in all the information and wisdom they have.”
The information Metz receives, along with the connections he makes, help him be a better advocate for DCFS and a voice for employees in the field.
“Those employees have always encouraged me to report exactly what they do and how they do it,” he said. “In my old role, I’d share what did or didn’t work in the field with people in the Central Office, trying to make everyone aware of what the county offices deal with. That has always been a high priority for me. I feel like I owe it to the workers.”
His bigheartedness has not gone unnoticed.
“From his family, to his job, to his volunteerism, helping to raise money and awareness for children in foster care, Keith goes out of his way to help others,” said Moore. “He shows up even when it’s not easy and puts his best foot forward.”
TURNING HEARTBREAK INTO MOTIVATION, UNDERSTANDING
Metz’s work ethic and kindness is praised by his peers and superiors, but the compassion he has for children in difficult situations is amplified due to his household overcoming a heartbreaking ordeal.
“Several years ago my stepdaughter was being sexually abused by her biological dad during his court-ordered visitations,” he somberly acknowledged. “That’s when this became more than a job for me. All of a sudden, the numbers I’d been reporting … my daughter was one of those numbers. That changed things for me.”
How did Metz and his family respond?
“My first reaction was utter shock which quickly turned to anger,” he answered. “I then tried to figure out what to do to get the help that she needed.
“I felt like a fool for not seeing the signs of child sexual abuse that I had been trained to see,” Metz said. “There was guilt for allowing her to go back so many times thinking of what she had to endure. So that situation definitely changed this job for me.”
DCFS aims to disclose the needs of children by using more than statistics. The belief is that most people relate to life situations better than numerical figures. Metz is wholeheartedly on board with the DCFS approach to providing information.
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“We need to humanize what we do. These are people. These are families. These are children,” Metz explained. “I didn’t like the way that it was made real to me, but in hindsight I appreciate what I learned. We need to not see the workers, kids, moms, and dads as just numbers on a spreadsheet. They must all be treated as real people.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
In October 2016, Metz’s duties changed when he was named DCFS Public Information Specialist. Metz still does a lot of what he’s excelled at for years, but now he’s responsible for handling numerous communications duties for DCFS as well. That includes coordinating special events, such as the Rally to Prevent Child Abuse Wednesday, April 19 at 10:30 a.m. on the steps of the State Capitol, and supporting similar events across the state.
“Everything that we do at DHS is about helping people. That common thread has run through every role I’ve had here. I’ve been fortunate to stand beside some amazing frontline and support staff from all across this state,” he said. “My new role as a member of the communications team allows me to champion those efforts and those wonderful people and share what we do as an agency in a much more comprehensive and impactful manner.”
Metz’s commitment to DHS is his way of making Arkansas a better place to reside.
“Getting a chance to sit down with kids, discuss things and learn how their day went and helping them have a moment when someone shows they care about them … that’s important.”
His dedication and ingenuity often astonishes Moore.
“From reviewing cases and working with caseworkers to improve performance, to collecting donations for – and delivering – Christmas gifts to foster children, I’ve watched Keith traverse the state and put in long hours as he works to help DCFS achieve its mission,” he said. “We are lucky to have him fighting the good fight for Arkansas families.”
(It is for all of these reasons that Keith Metz was nominated and featured for the Living the Mission series at DHS, which focuses on individuals who go above and beyond their typical functions. If you know someone who lives the mission of DHS and should be featured for the Living the Mission series, contact Kev Moyè at email@example.com.)