Dan Richter saw the social work field become increasingly specialized during his 35 years as director of Ward County Social Services. His job was an exception.
"That's what makes this job so unique is that you have to know, at least have a thumbnail knowledge, of all of these programs," he said.
He described the job as a little bookkeeping and quite a bit of personnel management with a need for some technical savvy, a good knowledge of the legal system and an ability to read and absorb a large amount of information and to write.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Rob Kondos, left, and Dan Richter go over paperwork in Richter’s office June 18.
"It's a mixture of art and science," he said of the job he handed off to his successor July 1.
Richter said he and his wife, Joan, will be staying around Minot, at least for much of the year. They also plan to spend some time in Florida.
Richter gained a vast store of knowledge in his time with Ward County that he sought to pass on to Rob Kondos, who now holds the director position.
New director not new to Minot
The new director at Ward County Social Services is no stranger to Minot or its social service programs.
Rob Kondos holds a business degree from Minot State University and has experience working in home health, hospice and assisted living. He previously worked for St. Joseph's Hospital, Edgewood Vista and The View, all of Minot, and Maple View, which established Alzheimer's care facilities in Grand Forks and Bismarck.
He joined Ward County Social Services in May, working with Dan Richter in transitioning to director.
Kondos said his background already has him familiar with many aspects of social work and the leaders in that field in Minot. He said he welcomes the opportunity to give back to the Minot area and to collaborate with the local business community.
Richter said he shared much of the history of the organization, but in a field as ever-changing as social services, what happened in the past may not be so relevant in the future. There were times in his explanations to Kondos that he would have to stop and realize that the new director was going to have to forge his own path.
"You can't explain everything," he said. "You have to walk the walk."
Richter became director of Ward County Social Services in May 1975. A native of Hazen and a social work graduate of Minot State University, he was a social worker in LaMoure County in southeastern North Dakota from 1970 to 1973. He later became director of social services in nearby Dickey County.
Richter said an interest in serving people through an organized system drew him into social work. A future in administration wasn't his focus, but he fell into the role and enjoyed it.
Occasionally, the job brought personal satisfaction.
"I content myself with small victories," Richter said on one of his last days in the job. "Those can be administrative or successful cases or situations that I deem successful. When the public has been served, and also the taxpayer has been served, then we have done the best, most efficient job that we can do and that takes quite a bit of doing some days."
Social services is challenging because almost every issue in society affects it. A disaster or an economic or political change reverberates in social services.
"That's why it's continually evolving and growing," he said. "The general trend since I got in the business is the expansion of programs and services. Usually the initiative comes from the federal government."
Richter remembers the Nixon era in the 1970s.
"That was the first period when they talked about welfare reform," he said. "In those days the federal government still had a lot of resources and more means than they do now. The impetus then was for federalization of all these welfare programs. The only thing that really came out of that was the SSI (Supplementary Security Income) program. They federalized the Aged, Blind and Disabled state program."
Major welfare reform in 1997 replaced the program that typically defines "welfare" with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. With the change, Ward County Social Services, is down to 150 clients from about 450 at one time in the family assistance program.
"In that respect, I guess it's been successful, but to administer, it's very burdensome," Richter said.
Numbers are up in some other programs.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the new food stamps. For the year ended in May, use of SNAP grew 9 percent in Ward County. In June, there were 5,192 people in 2,394 households in Ward County receiving a combined monthly benefit of $655,0071.
"Food stamps are a barometer of how the economy is doing. Although the economy here is probably doing quite well in the Minot region, there are, obviously, still people who need or qualify for these programs," Richter said. "There's got to be some economic impact because the numbers in SNAP keep going up, and Medicaid, too.
"The big thing that's going to face us now is health-care reform. Medicaid is going to have a big piece in that so we are beginning to get some very preliminary information regarding the impact on Medicaid. The numbers will be quite significant, "Richter said. "The main theme for us is these services are moving more from a social model to more of a medical model as we look more to Medicaid to cover these services."
For the county, increased Medicaid use could mean an increase in administrative cost, which is the part of the program paid locally.
Along with the medical side, Richter sees a continued need for strong family support and child welfare programs in the coming years.
The agency works with energy assistance, child-care assistance and licensing, foster care, child neglect and abuse, home- and community-based services for the elderly and disabled and a variety of other programs.
"We have a lot of responsibility but we don't have a lot of direct authority. In large part, we have to work collaboratively with other agencies to do these tasks," Richter said. "The federal government has required increasing quality in delivering those programs. The rules have become many times more complex than they used to be and it takes so much more administrative effort."
The staff at the agency also has grown from fewer than 40 when he started to 72 full- and part-time employees.
"Social Services has moved from being a welfare agency to what I call a service agency. We provide a lot of services to people," Richter said. "The term is strength-based. We try to look at the strengths in families to build our programs on, and then wrap around services. ... We try to preserve families, providing service at the front end instead of after the fact, and we aren't there yet but that's kind of the emphasis. The themes for children are safety, permanency and well-being."
Ward County was one of four North Dakota counties to participate in a 2007 federal review of child welfare services. The review suggested ways to improve services but found the state's system to be working, Richter said.
"No state had ever passed, but we understand that we have done quite well," he said.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)